Adam Grant

Originals - Book Summary

How Non-Conformists Move the World

Duration: 22:37
Release Date: May 21, 2024
Book Author: Adam Grant
Categories: Creativity, Psychology, Career & Success
Duration: 22:37
Release Date: May 21, 2024
Book Author: Adam Grant
Categories: Creativity, Psychology, Career & Success

In this episode of 20 Minute Books, we delve into "Originals" by Adam Grant, a fascinating exploration of how unconventional thinking leads to great ideas and innovation. Published in 2016, this book offers actionable insights on nurturing originality across all areas of life, emphasizing that creativity is accessible to everyone. Grant, an esteemed voice in human resources and management, speaks from a well-founded perspective, having advised top companies like Google, Goldman Sachs, and Disney Pixar.

"Originals" is not just theoretical—it's packed with practical tips on how to recognize and cultivate our most groundbreaking ideas and bring them to fruition. Whether you're a creative seeking affirmation, an employee aiming to reinvent your workplace environment, or simply someone curious about cultivating extraordinary ideas, this book provides valuable guidance.

Adam Grant, celebrated for his contributions to The New York Times on workplace psychology, and a distinguished professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, ensures that the insights in "Originals" are rooted in extensive research and real-world application.

Join us as we summarize this compelling guide to becoming an architect of change and uncovering the potential to think differently about what we do and how we do it.

Unlock your inner pathbreaker: Discover how to stand out without sticking out!

Originality has consistently been a trait that many yearn for — a distinguished badge of creativity that sets one apart from the crowd. Yet, adopting this mantle of "original" often carries with it undertones of being unconventional or even a tad peculiar.

But do we really need to be seen as eccentric to be original?

This narrative takes you through the fascinating dynamics of embracing non-conformity while still remaining part of the community. It gives you a glimpse into the lives of individuals who have ventured beyond the norm, challenging tried and tested approaches to spark innovation and progressive change through history.

Through this exploration, you'll discover surprising indicators of originality — like the seemingly trivial choice of your internet browser. Yes, who knew that preferring one browser over another could hint at your innovative streak?

Moreover, you'll learn why sometimes, playing the devil's advocate against your own ideas can be a strategic move to foster broader acceptance and support. It's a counterintuitive approach that can lead allies and skeptics alike to rally behind your concept, putting their doubts to work in refining and strengthening the idea.

And there's a curious revelation about procrastination. Far from just a thief of time, procrastination turns out to have been a catalyst for one of the most pivotal and celebrated speeches in history. Delay, it seems, can sometimes beget brilliance, allowing ideas to marinate and evolve into their most impactful form.

As this section unfolds, prepare to shed any reservations about embracing originality. Learn how to champion your unique ideas and perspectives in a way that resonates rather than alienates, transforming ‘weird’ into ‘wonderfully inventive’.

Carve a niche in your career by harnessing originality

Originality is often described simply as possessing a distinctive or unique character. But what exactly defines an "original" in the contemporary world? Today, originals are those individuals who not only conceive innovative ideas but also actively implement them to disrupt the status quo.

Interestingly, it's the small details that might highlight an original thinker at work. Take, for example, the findings of economist Michael Housman. In his research, Housman noted that certain customer service employees retained their jobs significantly longer than their peers. Diving deeper, he stumbled upon an intriguing correlation: the internet browser choice of employees could predict job retention and initiative.

Yes, it sounds almost implausible! But here’s the catch: those who went beyond the default Internet Explorer to install alternative browsers like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox exhibited a proactive approach. These individuals were not only more adept at confronting challenges but also at innovating solutions. As a result, they tended to remain employed up to 15 percent longer than their counterparts.

On the flip side, employees who stuck with the pre-installed browsers generally adhered to the conventional, accepting the default settings in technology and, metaphorically, in their job roles. This lack of initiative and problem-solving acumen often led to job dissatisfaction and higher turnover.

Standing out in today's job market increasingly requires you to be an original. The encouraging news is that embracing originality is within everyone’s reach. While we might not all become founders of groundbreaking startups, composers of epoch-defining symphonies, or deliverers of history-altering oratories, we each harbor unique ideas with the potential to enhance our workplaces, communities, and personal lives.

Venturing to present new ideas demands both courage and a steadfast resolve to see changes through. The journey to becoming an original begins with overcoming the fear of action and advocating for your creative visions. Curious about the next steps? Stay tuned for more insights on transforming fear into a driving force for innovation.

Why more ideas lead to better ideas

It's a popular tale — the image of Isaac Newton lounging under a tree only for an apple to fall and inspire his theory of gravity. But in reality, groundbreaking ideas rarely drop out of thin air; they require dedication and a lot of brainstorming.

When aiming for innovative ideas, the debate often revolves around whether quantity or quality should take precedence. Interestingly, nurturing a multitude of ideas often breeds quality, as indicated by the studies of psychologist Dean Simonton, who analyzed the traits of highly creative names in history.

Simonton found that exceptionally creative individuals don't necessarily come up with better ideas on a regular basis; instead, they come up with more ideas. This sheer volume increases their chances of striking gold occasionally. Consider the prolific output of Pablo Picasso, who created approximately 2,800 ceramics, 1,800 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, and over 12,000 drawings. Yet, only a fraction of these works cemented his fame and status as a luminary in the art world.

This suggests a symbiotic relationship between quantity and quality — one cannot exist effectively without the other.

Simonton also revealed that even the most celebrated geniuses have difficulty predicting which of their creations will endure. He cites Ludwig van Beethoven as a prime example. Beethoven's personal assessments of his works often diverged significantly from how critics and historians would later judge them, with discrepancies in around 33 percent of the cases.

These insights collectively underscore how generating many ideas is crucial to uncovering exceptional ones. However, it's essential to remember that creativity isn't a mechanical output; it's not about continuously producing ideas like an assembly line. Sometimes, the best ideas can come when you least expect them — perhaps while you're leisurely procrastinating or even daydreaming under a tree. Such moments allow the mind to wander and explore, potentially leading to that next big idea.

Unlocking creativity through strategic procrastination

It's a common belief that procrastination spells disaster for productivity. However, could there be a hidden creative benefit to putting things off until the last minute?

Interestingly, some of history's most spontaneous and creative moments have been born from the pressure of procrastination. Take, for instance, Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. King didn't begin drafting his speech until the night before the event. When he delivered his address, the legendary phrase "I have a dream" was actually improvised — prompted by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson's shout from the crowd, urging King, "Tell them about the dream, Martin!"

This improvisation can be linked to what’s known as the Zeigarnik effect — named after Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik. This psychological phenomenon suggests that tasks we leave unfinished linger in our minds more persistently than those we complete. In King’s case, his unprepared speech allowed his mind the flexibility to adapt and incorporate new, inspiring ideas on the spot.

Procrastination, when used wisely, seems to be a strategy that many great innovators have employed. Among them was Leonardo da Vinci, renowned not only for his immediate masterpieces but also for his habit of leaving works incomplete, only to return to them years later. His painting of the Mona Lisa, started in 1503, was set aside and revisited multiple times before it was ultimately deemed complete in 1519. Historian William Pannapacker suggests that da Vinci’s procrastination wasn’t mere laziness but a deliberate tactic allowing him time to explore optical illusions and novel painting techniques that would eventually revolutionize art.

Through these examples, it’s clear that strategic procrastination can indeed fuel creative genius, providing the mental space necessary for original thought and allowing room for unexpected, groundbreaking ideas to surface.

How admitting flaws can strengthen your pitch

Have you ever pitched what you thought was a surefire idea, only to be met with tepid enthusiasm or outright rejection? Don't be too quick to doubt the value of your idea—often, the issue isn't the idea itself, but how it’s presented.

Challenging the status quo or introducing radical ideas can unsettle potential supporters, impacting your career and connections within your industry. A comprehensive study spanning various sectors including nonprofit, service, retail, and manufacturing highlighted a concerning pattern: employees who frequently offered ideas and expressed concerns were often overlooked for promotions and salary increases over two years.

Confronted with such daunting odds, how can you tilt the scale in your favor? Interestingly, one effective strategy is to lead with your idea’s potential drawbacks. This honest approach can disarm critics and lay a foundation of trust—proving you're not just a visionary, but a realistic and reliable one.

Take, for example, the approach taken by Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman during their pitch for "Babble," an online parenting magazine and blog network. In their presentation to potential investors, Griscom didn’t shy away from pointing out several significant shortcomings. He openly admitted that the site's user engagement was underwhelming, a large portion of its content was off-brand celebrity gossip, and the site's backend desperately needed an overhaul.

Counterintuitive as it may seem, this candid admission of flaws did not deter investors. Instead, it built a rapport based on transparency and honesty, which can be rare in pitches that typically aim to dazzle with only the positives. The result? Babble secured $3.3 million in funding and was later acquired by Disney in 2011.

This strategy underscores a powerful shift in pitching dynamics. By willingly exposing the weak spots in your proposals, you not only showcase your integrity but also frame your initiative as a work in progress with room for growth and collaboration, making it a more appealing investment.

Transforming radical ideas into familiar concepts

When asked whether we prefer our reflection in the mirror or our appearance in photos, many of us would choose the mirror. That's because photos often show us from angles that we're not used to seeing, making them seem strange and sometimes unflattering. This preference for the familiar extends beyond our self-image — it influences how we perceive new ideas, too.

This peculiarity poses a challenge when introducing groundbreaking concepts, especially to those who prefer traditional approaches. However, employing a few strategic techniques can ease the process of getting even the most resistant individuals on board with innovative ideas.

One effective method is leveraging the mere exposure effect. This psychological phenomenon suggests that repeated exposure to new ideas increases their acceptance over time. It's about familiarity breeding comfort; the more people hear your idea, the more likely they are to warm up to it. So, don't hesitate to reiterate your concepts and ensure they're succinct, versatile, and continuously presented.

Furthermore, contextualizing new ideas within familiar narratives can significantly lower their perceived risk. Take, for instance, Disney's initial reluctance toward the bold storyline of "The Lion King." The notion of an animated epic inspired by complex themes found in Shakespeare's works like "King Lear" and "Hamlet" was initially daunting to the producers.

However, during a pivotal meeting, Disney CEO Michael Eisner and producer Maureen Donley cleverly reframed the story, emphasizing its alignment with these well-known Shakespearean tragedies. By relating the new, somewhat radical idea to familiar and revered narratives, they were able to alleviate concerns and pave the way for the project's approval.

The result? "The Lion King" not only became the highest-grossing film of 1994 but also won two Academy Awards, proving that innovative ideas can flourish when presented through a relatable lens.

This approach highlights the importance of finding common ground when advocating for new concepts. By making radical ideas familiar, you'll not only foster acceptance but also fuel the potential for groundbreaking success.

Embrace the challengers: The value of critical collaborators

Achieving greatness often necessitates embracing criticism, not just praise. While it's comfortable to surround yourself with yes-men, true growth emerges from engaging with those who dare to challenge your ideas.

A revealing experiment by psychologist Charlan Nemeth sheds light on this concept. Participants were tasked with selecting the best candidate from a trio for a hypothetical job. The candidate named John was clearly the most qualified, yet some participants leaned towards a less qualified candidate, Ringo. The introduction of a third candidate, George, who was advocated by a minority of the group, significantly increased the likelihood of John being chosen. This scenario illustrates that a dissenting opinion can disrupt the normal flow of consensus, compelling the group to think more critically and independently.

Such dynamics are crucial for avoiding groupthink—a term coined by Yale psychologist Lester Irving Janis. Groupthink occurs when the desire for harmony in a group leads to poor decision-making outcomes, as members suppress dissenting viewpoints and alternatives.

One practical way to counteract groupthink and enrich creativity is to involve collaborators who aren’t afraid to question and test your ideas. This strategy was brilliantly employed by Ben Kohlmann of the Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC). Kohlmann deliberately selected team members known for their history of challenging authority, including junior officers who had faced disciplinary actions.

This choice fostered a team culture ripe for innovation, which proved its worth as they pioneered the use of 3D printing technology aboard naval ships, allowing for on-the-spot manufacturing of necessary parts. This breakthrough was notably facilitated by the team’s diverse and challenging perspectives, which combined to create a robust environment for creative solutions.

Thus, if you're aiming to cultivate a fertile ground for innovation, consider inviting critics into your circle. They are not just naysayers but invaluable assets who push you to refine your ideas, challenge the status quo, and achieve better results.

Mastering the art of persuasive idea presentation

Even if you are surrounded by like-minded individuals sharing similar goals and values, this doesn't automatically ensure they will support your innovative ideas. To rally allies effectively, striking the right balance in your communication is essential — it's about intriguing without overwhelming.

It's a common misconception that shared goals naturally unite people. However, research from Dartmouth College psychologists Judith White and Ellen Langer challenges this notion, introducing the concept of horizontal hostility. This type of prejudice, oddly, manifests most intensely among members of the same minority group. In radical political factions, for instance, the fiercest criticisms often come from within, targeting fellow advocates rather than obvious adversaries or dissenters.

To circumvent such internal conflicts and enhance receptivity to your ideas, a subtler approach may be required. Think of it as employing a Trojan horse strategy—not to deceive, but to align your innovative ideas more closely with established values and beliefs held by your audience.

Consider the case of Meredith Perry, who pioneered the development of wireless power solutions for electronic devices. Initially, her proposals met with skepticism from physics professors and engineers, who deemed her vision unfeasible. Undeterred, Perry shifted her approach subtly. Instead of pitching the grand vision of wireless charging, she presented her idea as a project to develop a transducer. This less radical framing helped her avoid triggering outright dismissal of her ideas.

By refining her presentation, Perry not only garnered interest but also crucial support, allowing her to advance her project and eventually establish her company, uBeam. Today, uBeam is at the forefront of wireless charging technology, thanks to Perry's strategic maneuvering.

This example underscores the importance of not just having innovative ideas but also mastering how to present them effectively. Knowing how to communicate your vision in a way that resonates and connects with potential supporters and collaborators can make all the difference in turning your imaginative concepts into tangible success.

A comprehensive wrap-up

The core message of this book resonates with a vibrant call to tap into your creative reservoir. Cultivating a wealth of ideas and not hesitating to share the standout ones is crucial. For an enhanced creative journey, it is beneficial to engage with those who challenge conventional thinking, ensuring they feel empowered to voice their perspectives freely. Additionally, mastering the art of making your novel ideas resonate by presenting them as familiar and appealing can significantly enhance support from peers and stakeholders. With these strategies, you are well-equipped to transform your visionary concepts into tangible, impactful realities.

Originals Quotes by Adam Grant

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