Overview: My personal bias—I love the work that Adam Grant does. So, read no further if that Originals, Grant teaches us how to develop new ideas and how to vet them; how to pitch those ideas to others; when to trust our gut and when not to; the difference between power and status and so much more! He also busts some interesting myths like how successful entrepreneurs are not hyper-risk takers—rather, they hedge their bets; how the creative problem solvers are often not experts in their fields; and, how procrastination can be your friend—every writer in the world should now rejoice! Grant uses academic studies, stats and stories from unexpected places to punctuate a well-orchestrated text. For example, he tells about how the show “Seinfeld” barely made it to TV and how it took a very special NBC executive with broad, varied experience to have the courage to put his reputation on the line. And as a huge Seinfeld fan, I personally salute him! Finally, I would encourage you to read Sheryl Sandberg’s foreword, because not only does she do a very good overview of the book while praising the author for his talent, but she also praises Grant for his empathetic heart. When Sandberg’s husband suddenly died, Grant dropped what he was doing and flew across the country to be with her in her darkest hours. Grant, like his book, is an Original!bothers you about my objectivity as a reviewer. Grant, a young, uber-smart and engaging professor at Wharton, might just be the latter-day Peter Drucker, only much cooler! In
1. Generating Original Ideas: Grant warns us to question the default—the status quo. He urges us to remember that people write rules and we can rewrite them when necessary. To get more good ideas, we need to increase the odds by taking more “swings,” like a baseball player who takes more at-bats hoping to increase his batting average. Also, by broadening your base of knowledge and widening your perspective, you can be far more creative. He notes that Nobel Prize winners were more likely to paint, dance, and play music than their peers. Grant also suggests using peers to get accurate feedback. Bosses give too many false negatives, and we give ourselves too many false positives.
2. Championing Original Ideas: Grant offers some unusual but useful insights about creativity. For example, when you take risk in one area but have another area of more stability in your life, you‘re more likely to be successful in the new endeavor. Successful entrepreneurs take this bet-hedging approach. Next, as counterintuitive as it might seem, when pitching ideas, it’s best to point out first several reasons why people might NOT support your idea. This has a leveling effect and puts you more on the audience’s side, making you seems much less like a con artist. To get people used to your idea, repeat it often (10 to 20 times) but in short bursts. Also, connect it to other ideas that are already known and accepted. Often, analogies and comparisons help. If your ideas are radical or you’re known as a radical, try to temper your approach. Start lower and slower on the emotional scale to not upset or antagonize. Connect to group values and customs.
3. Manage Emotions: When motivated or committed, focus on the future goal. However, when uncertain, focus on your progress. Trying to use your will to calm yourself down is difficult, if not impossible; so divert anxiety into positive enthusiasm. Also, when you see an unjust/unfair situation of another person, focus on helping the victim, not punishing the perpetrator—more good than bad will happen. Finally, whether in a difficult job or relationship situation, the four responses to dissatisfaction are exit, voice, persistence and neglect. Based on their level of commitment and feeling of control, people tend to respond in one of these four ways.
4. Creating Original Ideas: Grant offers some help in this arena. Run innovation tournaments—employees come up with ideas, develop proposals and evaluate them. Winners get a budget and help implementing their ideas. Play “kill the company” by getting in groups and planning how to attack your own products or services—then take the threats and address them. It’s like opposition research—taking the other side of a debate to figure out your opponent’s attack. Use all employees (including accountants, lawyers, and other less traditional operations types) to propose new products and services—builds a culture of creativity and innovation. Do the opposite! Take a widely held assumption or truth and ask, what if or when is the opposite true? A perspective change helps us all look at an idea in a new way.
5. Building a Culture of Originality: Don’t just hire for cultural fit, but cultural contribution. Oftentimes fit means conformity—the opposite of originality. Find complementary and necessary strengths, not similarity. Have entry interviews (not just exit interviews) to find out what new employees like to do, why they chose the company, and their unique perspective. Seeking problems, not solutions, creates inquiry, not advocacy. Invite and extol the contrary voice in meetings; it adds to the originality. And it encourage dissent.
6. Miscellaneous Gold: There’s a ton of content in this book. To be effective, a leader has to have both positional power and earned status or credibility of those around her/him. Stand for something, not just against the status quo. When pitching a product or idea, start off with flaws—it actually builds credibility! Women and men are treated differently when they speak up due to stereotyping. But when women speak up for others (being communal) they’re more likely to get respect. Grant challenges assumptions and shows when it’s good to procrastinate, why and when older innovators outperform younger ones. The kind of web browser you select may predict how creative/original you are!
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant (Viking Press, 2016), reviewed by Steve Gladis, February 2016.