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Synopsis

Originals is a book that delves into how you can utilize your uniqueness as a tool for becoming successful. Adam Grant provides a wide range of practical examples of individuals overcoming the odds and successfully challenging authority. On top of this, he uses his background in psychology to apply relevant research to each point he makes. Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt.

About Adam Grant

Adam Grant is an American psychologist and author who is currently a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in organizational psychology. He received academic tenure aged 28, making him the youngest tenured professor at the Wharton School. Adam Grant has been Wharton’s top-rated professor for seven straight years. He has been recognized as one of the world’s ten most influential management thinkers and Fortune’s 40 under 40. He is the author of four New York Times bestselling books that have sold over two million copies and been translated into 35 languages. Adam is also the host of WorkLife, a chart-topping TED original podcast. His TED talks on original thinkers and givers and takers have been viewed more than 20 million times. 

“Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.”

– Adam Grant

Originality Underpins Fulfilling Careers

A dictionary definition of originality emphasizes the importance of having a unique character. However, Adam Grant argues that originals are more advanced in the modern world than they used to be. For example, previously, originals had to dream up novel ideas and challenge the status quo. However, modern originals also have to take the initiative to make their unique vision a reality. 

Research suggests that originals differ from others in even the smallest details. Economist Michael Housman identified that a specific group of individuals within his customer service team stayed in their jobs far longer than others. He sought out potential explanations for why these individuals were different. To Housman’s surprise, he found a link between individuals who kept their jobs longer and their choice of internet browser. 

Specifically, Housman found that individuals who installed alternative browsers to the default Internet Explorer were more likely to keep their jobs. On top of this, they were more likely to take the initiative, confront others on decisions, and find solutions to dilemmas. Although the link might initially seem weak, somebody willing to challenge the status quo by installing a different browser is more likely to identify novel solutions and challenge failing approaches. The research findings suggested that these employees stayed in their jobs for, on average, 15 percent longer. 

In contrast, those individuals who used the computers’ built-in browsers were happy to accept standards for what they were. Hence, they were less effective in solving problems and less willing to push for change. Therefore, when they had an issue with the workplace or their role, they would leave their job rather than seek solutions to their problems. 

Adam Grant suggests that this analogy is a strong example of how important it is to become an original. The originals in Housman’s company were the ones who survived in the working world. Hence, to become successful, you should aim to become an original. Although we are not all geniuses or creative masters, we all have unique ideas that can help improve our work, our communities, and our relationships. 

Adam Grant outlines that the first step toward becoming an original is to adopt courage and determination when you want change. You must overcome your fear of standing up for your ideas.

Idea Quantity Encourages Idea Quality

Adam Grant suggests that if you are willing to consider a wide range of ideas, you will be more likely to improve your idea quality. 

There are examples throughout history of fantastic ideas being a product of good luck. For example, Isaac Newton’s discovery of universal gravitation is a product of an apple falling from a tree and hitting him on the head. However, the reality is that these great ideas are very rare and are something you have no control over. Therefore, Adam Grant instead suggests that you utilize hard work to create new ideas. 

Traditionally, people work by the saying ‘quality over quantity’. However, in the case of ideas, both quantity and quality are equally important. The quantity of ideas encourages the quality of ideas during brainstorming. This point is supported by research from the psychologist, Dean Simonton. Simonon found that highly creative individuals do not generally produce better ideas. Instead, they produce more ideas than others. Their increased idea output leads to a higher probability that they will develop a small handful of brilliant ideas. To reinforce this point, Adam Grant provides an example of Pablo Picasso. Picasso is renowned for a handful of artworks. However, few people realize that Picasso’s work portfolio includes 2,800 ceramics, 1,800 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, and more than 12,000 drawings. The quantity of Picasso’s work allowed a few quality ideas to propel him to success.

Simonton provided further support for this point by finding that geniuses could not tell which of their works would become a timeless classic and which would flop. For example, Beethoven disagreed with music experts 33% of the time when ranking his best and worst compositions. Therefore, just focusing on a few quality ideas is a recipe for failure. Instead, you must produce as many innovative ideas as possible and increase your probability of success.

Although Adam Grant argues that the quantity of ideas is essential, he does not suggest that you churn ideas out like an assembly line. Instead, you have to give ideas time to come to you. Hence, do not immediately reject any idea and do not force ideas. 

Procrastination Can Be Productive

“Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity, but it can be a resource for creativity.”

– Adam Grant

We are frequently told that procrastination is our worst enemy. Plus, almost every self-help book describes successful people as being those who can conquer procrastination. However, several moments of genius have stemmed from procrastination. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” line was partially improvised. During his speech, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson shouted at Martin Luther King, “Tell them about the dream.” The result was an improvised speech on Martin’s vision for America’s future. The reason Martin was willing to ditch his script was that he had barely prepared for it. He had only started writing the speech the night before and did not have much content prepared. Therefore, Martin’s procrastination allowed him to improvise. 

Adam Grant describes King’s improvisation as an example of the Zeigarnik effect. This effect was described by a Russian psychologist of the same name. The Zeigarnik effect relates to our minds being open to new ideas and insights after finishing a task or giving up on it. Hence, some would view King’s unfinished speech, due to him leaving it to the last minute, as something an unsuccessful person would do. However, research suggests that King’s unfinished speech provided room for his brain to develop other, more brilliant ideas. 

Great originals know how to utilize procrastination as a strategy in their idea production. Procrastination encourages gradual progress, rather than rapid progress, which leaves your brain open to a wider range of ideas. Here, Adam Grant provides an example of another famous artist. Few people know that Leonardo da Vinci was a massive procrastinator. He started painting the Mona Lisa back in 1503 but then abandoned the project to work on something else. He didn’t actually finish the Mona Lisa until 16 years later. Some would view this as luck. On the other hand, historian William Pannapacker believes that this time allowed da Vinci to procrastinate in an effective way. During this time, da Vinci experimented with optical illusions and new painting techniques. By using this experimentation as a time of procrastination, he returned to the Mona Lisa with a different mindset and new ideas. 

Admit You Have Weaknesses

Voicing your opinions has the potential to threaten your business career and your network. Challenging the status quo can be a positive thing, but offering ideas and claiming they cannot fail will land you in trouble. For example, research across nonprofits, retail, and manufacturing suggests that voicing your ideas and concerns to superiors is associated with a lower chance of raises and promotions.

Although voicing your opinions can have adverse effects, choosing how you voice your opinions can flip this impact. Adam Grant suggests offering you opinions, but make sure that you also provide reasons why your superiors might not want to accept your proposal. Start presenting your idea by opening with the shortcomings of your idea. Admitting your idea has weaknesses will surprise those you are talking to and suggest you are an honest individual. This honesty your audience now associates with you will improve the legitimacy of your ideas. 

Adam Grant provides an example of an entrepreneur couple, Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman. This couple were presenting their online parenting magazine and blog network, Babble, to potential backers. The couple started their pitch by being completely honest and admitting that their website’s user engagement was lower than expected. Specifically, 40 percent of their site was made up of irrelevant celebrity gossip. Additionally, they also accepted that their back end was in significant need of an update. The investors were charmed by the honesty with which the couple spoke about their company. They trusted the couple, and this meant they trusted their company. Subsequently, the couple was able to raise $3.3 million in funding and were eventually acquired by Disney in 2011. 

Make Radical Ideas Normal

“Being original doesn’t require being first. It just means being different and better.”

– Adam Grant

Humans tend to reject things that are not familiar to us. However, this tendency prevents us from thinking of and accepting original ideas. Despite this, Adam Grant introduces ways to introduce original ideas into your work and get your coworkers on board. 

Firstly, Adam Grant introduces the Mere Exposure Effect. This effect states that repeating original ideas can help give others time to warm up to the idea. For example, you can introduce an original idea, wait a few weeks, and then reintroduce the idea after your coworkers have had time to normalize the idea. Additionally, research suggests that consistently exposing people to new ideas allows them to become more receptive over time. 

To enhance the Mere Exposure Effect, Adam Grant recommends that you keep your ideas concise. Plus, try and integrate your original idea into preexisting ideas that are already widely accepted. Doing this will help others quickly understand the potential applications of your original idea. Finally, you have to be persistent. Your coworkers will likely initially respond to your original ideas in a hostile way. However, with time and persistence, their responses will undoubtedly improve. 

As well as integrating your original ideas into preexisting ideas, you can also frame them within a familiar context. Adam Grant provides an example of the famous Disney film, The Lion King. When the original idea of this film was first pitched to Disney, they were very skeptical. The producers did not like the dark storyline that was incorporated into the film script. However, Disney CEO Michael Eisner was able to change people’s opinions of the film by framing The Lion King within a familiar context. Specifically, Eisner highlighted the similarities between the film’s themes and Shakespeare’s King Lear and Hamlet. Immediately, the producers were persuaded. Just providing a common point of reference allows original ideas to become part of a mainstream context. The rest is history. The Lion King became 1994’s highest-grossing film and gained two Oscars. 

Collaborate With Opposing Opinions

You will not get far in life if you only listen to people who agree with you and offer you constant praise. Criticism is generally not very pleasant, but it is crucial for personal growth. Surrounding yourself with some people who hold entirely different views to you is one way of preventing groupthink. Hence, people are encouraged to share their real opinions rather than just conforming to the majority’s views. 

Adam Grant provides an experiment that supports the importance of including minority views within your company. The psychologist, Charlan Nemeth, ran an experiment where groups of participants had to hire one of three possible candidates. The first candidate was presented as having the best skill set for the job. Therefore, he was a clear choice. In one condition, the psychologist had stooges show a preference for the less qualified candidate. In this condition, the genuine participants conformed to the majority position and chose to hire the less qualified candidate. However, in a second condition, the psychologist had just one stooge offer a minority position by backing the best-qualified candidate. In this circumstance, the chance of the participants choosing to hire the best-qualified candidate quadrupled. The inclusion of just one minority opinion can prevent groupthink.

Groupthink is a negative phenomenon that occurs when people within a group prioritize avoiding conflict by reaching consensus over making the optimal choice. Groupthink was first described as a phenomenon by Yale researcher Lester Irving Janis. Janis outlined groupthink as one of the biggest drivers of poor team decision making. Additionally, groupthink significantly reduces the potential for creativity. One way to effectively challenge groupthink is to include individuals who are very different but are willing to work towards a common goal. Adam Grant provides an example of the strategy used by Ben Kohlmann, who is a founding member of the Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell. 

This group is one of the most important creative hubs for identifying innovative solutions for the navy. For example, CRIC was the first group to bring a 3D printer on a ship to print spare parts if something broke while at sea. This creativity relied on Kohlmann establishing a team filled with officers who were willing to challenge authority and held varied viewpoints. Importantly, though, Kohlmann ensured that they were all working toward a common goal of creativity, innovation, and hard work.

Disguise Your Ideas to Gain Support

Innovative ideas are not enough to instigate change. Instead, you will need to win your peers over. Otherwise, your idea will not be implemented effectively. Adam Grant recommends readers ensure they use the right tone when conveying their ideas. Specifically, he states that you need to keep people interested, but you must not go over the top. In fact, Adam Grant suggests you should be sneaking your ideas into conversations. 

Adam makes this claim as this approach can help you avoid horizontal hostility. Horizontal hostility is a form of prejudice that can occur between members of the same group. For example, the most dedicated members of radical political groups often attack each other more than those who are cop-outs and easily swayed by other groups. Hence, even though these members share more core values than they do with anybody else, they also share more hostility. You can avoid horizontal hostility by avoiding trying to change people’s attitudes entirely. Instead, you should be aiming to connect with the values of others within your group and attach your idea to those values. 

In this book, an example of Meredith Perry is used to show how disguising an idea can be more effective. Perry is the inventor of wireless charging equipment. Upon presenting this idea to physics professors and engineers, she received very little support. Therefore, Perry changed her approach. Perry disguised her idea and just told them that she wanted to design a transducer, rather than one that sent power wirelessly. This idea obtained considerably more support, as it sounded less challenging. Perry obtained several funders. Subsequently, she started her company, uBeam, which now provides innovative wireless charging solutions.

Originality in Adam Grant’s Words

Throughout the book, Adam Grant provides several explanations of what it means to be original. Here they are:

  • “Originality is an act of creative destruction”
  • “The hallmark of originality is rejecting the defunct and exploring whether a better option exists”
  • “Originality is not a fixed trait. It is a free choice”
  • “Becoming original is not the easiest path in the pursuit of happiness but it leaves us perfectly poised for the happiness of pursuit”
  • “Originality brings more bumps in the road, yet it leaves us with more happiness and a greater sense of meaning”

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