In Originals Adam Grant extols the virtues of those nonconformists who create novel ideas, or go against the grain of convention, and lead successful powerful lives.
Many of the best coaches I know are originals.
They move at their own pace, think their own thoughts, and make enormous contributions to the game or the culture around them.
“Originality is an act of creative destruction.” Joseph Schumpeter
Of course we all borrow thoughts from others. We may even think the ideas are ours. Grant describes this with the great phrase “kleptomnesia.”
Grant shows us why curiosity is crucial and leads us to question the status quo and to look behind “what is’ to see “what could be.”
“When we become curious about the dissatisfying defaults in our world, we begin to recognize that most of them have social origins: Rules and systems were created by people. And awareness gives us the courage to contemplate how to change them.”
Like you and me
The book offers us the same cautionary tale of being selected for greatness too early that we can see all around us in sports. We push people to achieve, but achievement motivation can hinder creativity and create a need to play it safe in hopes of succeeding.
Evidence showed that many great leaders had to be pushed and “cajoled” into leading as a result of this.
He also adamantly makes the point that originals aren’t inherently extraordinary. We all have it in us because we all–even some of the most famous people in history–grapple with the same doubts, fears and desire for security.
“Originals” get pushed out into the spotlight by others much of the time. They are often as risk averse as you or I.
The positive side of this is that it leads them to hedge bets and build stable and successful structures around their creative ideas.
Taleb in Anti-Fragile talks about building robust systems and structures. Grant seems to be making a similar point.
“Those assumptions overlook the central benefit of a balanced risk portfolio: Having a sense of security in one realm gives us the freedom to be original in another.”
So don’t quit your day job, but do explore your best ideas. Originals can take big risks in one area precisely because they have security in another.
Some of these reluctant leaders are very attuned to others. They show deep compassion and can be very deliberate, even hesitant and self conscious, when making decisions.
They weigh the opinions of others.
He uses the example of Abraham Lincoln the remarkably deliberate president. (By the way I just watched the movie with Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln. It was great, subtle and made me think about this book.)
Ok, so originals are very much like you and me. They weren’t necessarily the early overachievers, they are likely to play it safe in many areas of their lives and they can be self conscious and care what others think.
So how do they make the leap?
First, remind yourself that originality is not a fixed trait. You can choose to be an original. Sometimes we just need someone to show us that is possible, which this book does.
After you buy in to the promise of your new idea we then need to be prepared to communicate it well. Grant shows how to sell it to a bigger and bigger audience.
The last third of the book focuses on how to set your own originality free not just in your career, but your life.
His final chapter “Rocking the Boat and Keeping it Steady” presents ways to manage anxiety as you push bravely forward.
It’s fascinating and important to recognize how many “originals” deal the same ambivalence and doubt as you and I do.
“Psychologist Julie Norem studies two different strategies for handling these challenges: strategic optimism and defensive pessimism. Strategic optimism anticipates the best, staying calm and setting high expectations. Defensive pessimists expect the worst, feeling anxious and imagining all the things that can go wrong…”
They both performed well.
“At first, I asked how these people were able to do so well despite their pessimism, Norem writes. “Before long, I realized that they were doing so well because of their pessimism.”
Turns out this pessimism can be motivating.
Finally, at the end of Originals Adam Grant has included a section called “Actions for Impact,” a reminder that if we want to join the list of originals it’s a choice and an action.
You can follow Adam Grant and his podcast WorkLife
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