Originals, How Non-Conformists Move the World, bottom line:
Creativity is leadership. But how could you be more creative? How could you think differently, outside the box? Are you thinking about changing the rules? Creating your own rules maybe?
There are tons of books out there on leadership and creativity, but Originals by Adam Grant is definitely in top position on my book suggestions list. In Originals, How Non-Conformists Move the World, Grant provides tons of food for thought on how to be better at creativity and leadership… differently.
Are you interested in finding ways to think smart and outside the box? Are you thinking about changing the rules? Trying to write your own rules, maybe? Well, This book is a book you must read, it’s as simple as that. Read my book review of Originals to find out more!
Book suggestion and review; Originals, How Non-Conformists Move the World’ by Adam Grant.
Originals, How Non-Conformists Move The World by Adam Grant is a must-read book for those interested in finding ways to do something more, something different, something to somehow reshuffle the cards and offer a new direction. This is my book review, read on!
I first read about Originals during one of my visits on Amazon. The cover caught my eye and those paint splashes stayed in my mind for a while. Reviews seemed very positive… but I didn’t act and left the book aside for a while.
I saw it again later on, eventually. But didn’t move more. Until three weeks ago, when I found the book on a coffee table. So? Well, I can’t resist books. So I opened it and started reading.
The first chapter hooked me up (see why below). It made me think about things I’d never thought about before. And it made me smile. Did you know that two persons on three will never try and solve a simple problem such as changing their pain-in-the-#@! internet browser? They would just keep living with it! No way!
Anyway, so I started thinking. You know, what does it mean to do things differently? Why? How?
Then I decided to get the book. I considered getting the eBook in the first place, but to be honest the bits I read made me want more than a screen. Originals – How Non-Conformists Move the World made me feel like there was something to learn there, so I went to my local bookshop and bought it.
And I’m glad I did! Let me explain why.
As usual, here is what you get on this page:
- A brief overview of the book (that includes my SMART takes).
- A much more comprehensive commentary of what the book is about, with the author's main topics explained in detail.
- The book's main themes, questions and conclusions in bullet points.
- Why the book was worth my time, why it will be valuable to you, and additional reading suggestions if you are interested in the topic!
Adam Grant’s Originals: a brief book review (for starters).
Originals by Adam Grant is a must-read book for those interested in finding ways to do something more. Something different, something to somehow reshuffle the cards and explore new directions.
Adam Grant is a reputed author and a professor of management and psychology. He wrote several books on how originals and game-changers think and lead. As noted on a famous online encyclopedia, Grant was recognized a World Economic Forum Young Global leader in 2015 and a Thinkers50 Most Inferential Global Management Thinker.
Grant elaborates on the idea that originality (the ability to question the status quo) is a key concept when it comes to doing things differently. His point is twofold: (i) those who want to change the rules and move the world can do it (provided that they follow some codes). And (ii) those who do it have in common an ability to think differently. Fair enough!
The style is very approachable. The book reads extremely well and will provide you with relevant and challenging food for thought on how to do more and better. Whatever you do!
Overall, the book is relevant to business executives and visionaries willing to review how their business works. It talks about creativity, but creativity is a matter of leadership, isn’t it? It is also relevant to anyone who basically wants to get to the next level. Whatever they do. Are you interested in working on your charisma? You have plenty of things to learn too…
Now, I’m getting into the details with a much more comprehensive book review below (keep reading!), but to finish the brief overview here is what the book is about:
Adam Grant’s Originals: the comprehensive book review.
The key topic of the book is originality – which Grant defines as the ability to obtain results that challenge the status quo in innovative ways.
In Originals – How Non-Conformists Move the World, Grant looks at a variety of ways to foster this originality.
These include creative destruction (the ability to innovate by destructing old ways of thinking) which he borrows from Schumpeter. And the ability to spot new ideas and to give them a chance.
The importance of speaking up is also discussed. So is the role of timing and strategic procrastination, the opportunity of innovating through coalitions, the relationship between mentors and original thinking. Not to forget, of course, the necessity to reconsider the concept of group-thinking, and the skill of nurturing originality in a business structure.
The book in bullet points
Adam Grant explores these major themes:
- Innovation and creativity
- Changing the rules of the game
- Succeeding and thinking differently
- Taking risks
He also asks a variety of questions, including:
- What is originality and how can it help change the world?
- What does it take to be an original?
- Can everyone be an original?
- Does everyone care about being different?
- Do originals really take risks?
- What is the best way to produce new ideas?
- What is the interest of producing more ideas?
- Can minority voices become a power for change?
- When should we speak up?
- Is procrastination a resource for innovators?
- Can you change more with others?
- What is the role of mentors?
- How do we become a daring personality?
- Is group thinking an ally to innovation?
- How to make sure vision actually fosters originality and outside-the-box thinking?
- How to make this work?
Now, let’s look at the big themes, shall we?
Originals – Theme #1: Creative Destruction.
The first big theme in Originals is what Adam Grant calls “creative destruction”. The discussion is interesting because it gives a genius introduction to originality (and to the book).
From a theoretical perspective, the term “creative destruction” was largely explored by the economist Schumpeter, for whom a creative process fundamentally requires demolishing past systems.
Grant’s discourse on creative destruction rather focuses on whether and why most of us normally refrain from implementing their most innovative ideas. And from taking action. Grant illustrates the complexity of being an ‘original’, a creative or a game changer in very simple terms. In fact, the ability of someone to think like an ‘original’ starts from the way he/she would react to a question. If this was such a good idea, someone would have done it already… right?
Status quo stuff.
Grant’s point is that innovation and originality are opposite to conformity and status quo. Innovation and originality start from daring to explore a new idea. They start from the ability to take initiatives when it comes to solving a simple problem.
In reality, though, most people facing a problem tend to shrug and move on. Without solving it! But very few people dare testing alternatives.
Grant takes the example of Warby Parker, an eyewear business which one day undertook to challenge the monopoly of expensive glasses makers by selling online at a fraction of the cost. With regret but admiration, he writes about what it meant for them to innovate against the status quo … and talks about his own failure to see the potential of that company and to invest in it.
So, Originals and game changers are those who try and “invent their own rules or their own game”. Without seeking approval. And without looking for conformity. Their strength is their ability to move the world, their tendency to question things and to believe that alternatives may be worth a thought.
The danger, in other words, is to live by default and to accept the idea that the status quo is reasonable and rational. That’s it!
Grant doesn’t make originality an easy thing, though.
To the opposite, he takes various examples of great leaders who long hesitated to take the risk to change their life. Martin Luther King struggled with his ‘dream’ speech until the last minute. Copernicus remained silent for 26 years. Wozniak nearly didn’t create Apple, etc.
There is some serious food for thought here. Why? Well, because the point works for every single person. As Grant asks: “the last time you had an original idea, what did you do with it?”.
Let’s mention that Grant also explores the issue of risks.
The point is very interesting (read it!). Despite a very common belief, Adam Grant explains that innovators are not foolish risk-takers. Yes, they question and dare. But the risks they take are calculated and therefore very limited.
Here, Grant makes a parallel with risk mitigation and portfolio management. His point is that innovators and originals all share a fundamental ability to reduce risks. They are calculators and triple-checkers whose main assets remain their curiosity and a permanent ability to question and take action.
>> Related reading: for more food for thought on investment and risk-mitigation, see also my summary of Zero to One by Peter Thiel.
Originals – Theme #2: Spotting Originals.
Logically, Grant’s second theme is the “art and science of recognizing original ideas”. And again his insights are totally worth a read.
Grant explores the difficulty to pick ideas and to question the status quo in far more depth. He discusses the tendency of everyone to overvalue their own performances (we all do it, right?). And he writes about the difficulty this creates when it comes to understanding clients (whose expectations tend to differ).
He also comments on the best ways to create “a masterpiece” and goes against the most common belief that you should only do what you know best. To him, quantity creates originality! Think about Picasso and Dali. Did they only produce masterpieces? Of course not. But their repeated work has given them all the necessary space to create, experience and produce.
Quantity is, therefore, the key to producing, questioning and testing. But the trial and error process also has a big role to play. Especially when quantity brings feedback and allows involving others!
Grant discusses this in terms of multitasking, in terms of prototype creation and resistance to novelty (both from a hierarchy and from a customer perspective) and in terms of intuition. He largely insists on the importance of niche experiences when it comes to spotting innovative ideas. And he also warns against a tendency to transform expertise into narrow-thinking and blindness. He warns, in fact, against the risk of passion and excessive enthusiasm. Not to forget the risk of trusting yourself too much.
In sum, non-conformism is a way of changing the rules. But it does require caution and a very careful approach.
Originals – Theme #3: Saying things.
An idea might well be worth fighting for but if you want to change the rules you will need to speak up. So, how to voice a minority opinion and when to speak up, then? This theme is interesting because it does not only apply to business innovation. It also works for those who generally have something to say but aren’t sure how to do that.
Here, Grant talks about the relationship between status quo, power and status. Yes, raising concern in front of a group can make you look like the troublemaker. Still, at the same time, raising your voice (so to speak) shows your ability to stand for something you believe in. It can, therefore, have a positive impact in terms of respect, charisma and status.
Grant also elaborates on the power of counterintuitive persuasion methods which (in a nutshell) consist in involving people in a problem-solving exercise instead of trying to sell them something they might be skeptical about. This, again, is absolutely worth your time. Get the book!
The theme furthermore includes a discussion on our tendency to “undercommunicate” on topics that are familiar to us. Because we tend to think that others are also familiar with those… And it provides very interesting food for thought on speaking up as a minority voice. Whether we are a woman, from an ethnic minority, or simply in dissent with the majority voice. Give it a look!
Originals – Theme #4: Don’t rush, buddy!
The fourth theme explores the idea that “fools rush in” and discusses a very common problem: procrastination.
Here the underlying question is twofold. “When to take action” and, in fact, “what are the unexpected benefits of delaying” action.
Procrastination is usually perceived as a way to lose time and avoid work. But Grant sees it as an opportunity to buy time and to “engage in divergent thinking”. Whilst, again, producing far more ideas than those who typically rush into work and premature conclusions.
Procrastination… a resource? Really?
Therefore, procrastination is a resource which helps mitigating risk and should be considered in terms of incubation, constructive delaying or even in terms of “strategic flexibility”. Certainly not in terms of lost time.! Rushing-in, in contrast, is a rather unproductive method which does not encourage testing and narrowing down alternatives.
All in all, Grant goes as far as describing procrastination as “a common habit of creative thinkers and great problem solvers”. So, procrastination can definitely be a strategic move, but it requires accepting to take time. Not that easy in a society where the first-come-first-served principle usually operates, right? Again, lots of food for thought here, and the best way to find out more is to get the book!
Originals – Theme #5: Strenght is in the numbers.
Then come coalitions. Or “how originals form alliances to advance their goals”.
As for the previous theme, this part of the book reads fast. It is interesting, nonetheless, because it involves a discussion on how to reach a balance. A balance between interests and values, a balance between values and priorities, a balance between priorities and goals. You get the point.
In sum, how to get the message through despite divergences, how to find happy mediums and how to avoid destructive hostilities in order to make the most of common interests.
Here, Grant explains the crucial difference between goals and ideals. He elaborates on the power of establishing tactics, discusses the importance of exploiting familiar concepts (the right way, be careful), and the key importance of getting all the partners into a problem-solving dynamic. Again, food for thought!
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Originals – Theme #6: On mentors and reproducing the model.
The issue of coalitions leads to discussing the role of mentors, both inside and outside the family circle.
Interestingly, while Grant notes that family tends to be the “roots of originality”, he once again goes against the easy idea that most of us would have: family mentoring is not about reproducing the family model, far from it. Here again, the discussion is full of illustrations and examples, but the point is that mentoring – whatever the environment – is about acquiring the confidence to dare, and that daring is a skill that can be taught to children.
The idea is very straightforward: the ability of anyone to take (calculated) risks depends on the examples from the past. Younger children will have a tendency to be more original – understand, to take more risks and to challenge the status quo more easily – because they had the chance to learn from their elders and because they will often try and think differently in order to take a stand, to differentiate themselves and, one way or another, to avoid reproducing the family conformity model.
Grant discusses this fascinating idea by referring to Freud and Adler or by mentioning sports examples, but he also talks about competition and niche, about patterns and confidence building, about value creation. Again, therefore, the ability to innovate comes from experiences, from our own perceptions of what is risky or not, from our values and models, and this part of the book is definitely worth your time.
Originals – Theme #7: When group work kills originality.
Innovation often originates from group testing and group feedback. So Grant discusses this way of generating new ideas as his seventh theme.
You won’t be surprised, he does that (again) by going against the common belief that group tests allow obtaining genuine and effective feedback. To him, group thinking rather has the ability to push participants to reach a “consensus instead of fostering dissent” and creativity.
Unless one of the participants is expressly asked and trusted to create dissent, Grant argues, the group will always come to a consensus because nobody will dare to move against the group.
You need to cultivate dissent, that’s the key!
In this part of the book, Grant gives an amazing example of how businesses which promote continuity in their corporate vision tend to succeed in failure while, to the absolute opposite, those who try and value diversity in opinions as part of their vision and corporate values tend to strive. The point leads to discussing the role of corporate cultures and explains how those can actually foster originality by encouraging contestation and critical thinking. The discussion once again has the merit to challenge a common belief on vision and culture, it is definitely worth your time. Read it!
Originals – Theme #8: Dare, Son.
The book finally deals with the difficulty of daring, and with the difficulty of pushing people to take risks for the sake of innovation and success.
This part of the book explores another issue that we all face: doubt. Here, Grant keeps challenging the reader. Instead of pushing towards deliberate action as other writers do, he makes you think about the power of what he calls “negative thinking”. In short, planning for the worst-case scenario is a very powerful way to foster creativity and originality because it pushes you to find solutions for every issue you might identify.
Clearly, the chapter refers to the idea discussed earlier that non-conformists and originals are not risk-takers and that the best way to reshuffle the cards is to mitigate risk. And, again, Grant explores the point by looking at plenty examples, including the power of excitement, by insisting on the importance of allowing dissent, and on the role of emergency when it comes to making people move.
The book ends with a piece of powerful advice: originals do start from identifying the status quo and work their way by deciding what cannot be tolerated anymore. If you are thinking about how you could make a difference, click on the link below and get the book. It is totally worth your time and it will make you reconsider the way you operate.
The main conclusions
Adam Grant comes to the following conclusions.
- Originality is the art of thinking differently and to change the status quo.
- Being an original requires creativity, and is not for everyone. In fact, most people are not interested in making things change.
- Originals are not risk-takers but risk mitigators who multiply ideas to test variables and opportunities before making a decision.
- Voicing minority opinions is a strong way to make a change but it is difficult because consensus and status quo preservation tend to dominate.
- Speaking-up is essential and all non-conformists have found their way to do it.
- Procrastination is a key skill which can help producing and selecting ideas.
- Working with others is essential but some rules need to be observed.
- Mentors are important but the learning process is more innovative than we think.
- Group thinking is dangerous, dissenting voices must be encouraged in order for innovation to happen.
- It all starts with establishing what the status quo is and whether / why it is not acceptable anymore.
Adam Grant’s Originals: Food for Thought
So, as usual, let’s finish this book review with some food for thought! The reality is, Adam Grant’s book Originals. How Non-Conformists Move the World is not a book for everyone. It is a book for those who care about making a difference. Making a difference means various things here. A difference to the world, a difference to others, a difference to yourself, a difference at work, you name it. But, a difference.
Let’s face it. Many of us enjoy reading books on how to build a business from a new personal idea of ours.
Actually, if you do, take a look at two of my I’ll Make You Think SMART book reviews, including the book review of The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau as well as the book review of The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. These two books are just about that. Give them a look!
In the same way, we always hear people suggesting that we should think outside-the-box, and we all know about Steve Jobs’ and Apple’s “Think Different” motto or tagline… But the truth is, who knows exactly what thinking differently means?
Adam Grant writes exactly about that.
He elaborates on the issues of innovation and immobility, discusses why the status quo usually dominates, explores why most people tend to feel just fine accepting it instead of questioning it. He also asks a variety of questions as to why some actually decide to question this status quo, and explains how they do it.
In sum, ‘Originals. How Non-Conformists Move the World’ is a workbook between psychology, critical thinking and self-development made for those who, one way or another, think about doing better with what they have, especially with their ideas.
The book is full of examples and asks the right questions.
Adam Grant writes against common beliefs and misconceptions, he often offers counter-intuitive solutions (which make a lot of sense when you give them some attention) and by the same token provides his readers with very interesting, challenging and original food for thought on how to make a difference. That difference.
Having said that, the book requires a little bit of thinking and processing. Just reading the book and dropping it when you’re done with it won’t teach you much.
While at the beginning of the book it is very clear to get where the author is going, the various topics discussed by the author do not always answer the “how to move the world?” question directly. Of course, all the themes relate to that point and I am not suggesting that the book isn’t coherent. Again, the book is a must-read. But it sometimes takes a little bit of thinking to put the information in context and process it.
For instance, the first theme very clearly focuses on how disruptive leaders think but the chapters on group thinking and role models are deeper than that and require that you start thinking about how following the ideas would help you move things differently.
Make it yours, really…
It is for the reader to wonder how the author’s writing and thinking can apply to his/her experience, and that is a very interesting challenge.
The variety of topics pushes the reader to try and make something out of the book. It forces you to wonder how the point is relevant, and it gives you a very good opportunity to think about how each theme would actually relate to you. Really.
To do this, the author regularly asks questions. First, each chapter starts with a clear description of what the discussion will focus on (in the shape of a question), which means that it is easy to get into the topics (this might seem logical, but many books don’t provide that type of comfort and fluidity). Second, the author uses questions all over the book to make the reader think in very practical terms. For instance, when does status quo become too much? What are the odds of creating your own masterpiece? What is the cost of not trying something new? Or, my personal favorite, “the last time you had an original idea, what did you do about it?”.
So, who should get this book?
Well, if you’ve read that much of my review, you should definitely get that book. Especially if you are looking for inspiration. Just dig in, you won’t regret it.
Have you ever tried to think different? That book might help!
If you are looking for a book on how to make your business work differently, Originals will help you think outside-the-box for sure. If you are trying to work on your leadership and charisma and to develop the way you interact with people to be perceived as a leader or as a visionary, the book will take you by the hand and will give you some serious food for thought. How to get people to see things your way? How to create your niche by thinking differently? Grant gives you plenty of tips here, the only thing you have to do is give it some time and a little bit of thinking.
There is a requirement, though. Adam Grant starts his book with the idea that most people are not interested in thinking differently because, after all, they are happy with what the status quo has to offer. If you are part of this group, chances are that you won’t find the book interesting. If you are curious and if you tend to enjoy a little bit of stimulation, however, that book will challenge you. It’s up to you to decide where you belong, just saying…
[Update: on creativity, read also my book review of Ed Catmull’s piece Creativity, Inc. which tells the story of how the Pixar studios have built their business model around status quo rejection and creativity, as the title suggests…]
In my opinion...
… fascinating, stimulating and inspiring. This is one of my must-read books without hesitation.
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That’s it for now, but don’t stop here! My reading notes are meant to give you a very comprehensive overview of the books I read and some food for thought for the month. That’s why I’ll Make You Think SMART is the Kick-Ass Book Reviews blog after all!
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