7 Lessons from “Originals” by Adam Grant

What makes original thinkers original? That's the question Adam Grant digs into while revealing the surprising origins of creative thinkers and builders.
Jason Walkow
April 24, 2024

If you don’t know Adam Grant, are you even on LinkedIn? Seriously, LinkedInfluencers (not sure if that’s a term, but it should be) constantly share bits of Grant’s organizational psychology wisdom on topics ranging from “motivation and meaning, rethinking assumptions, and living more generous and creative lives.” And to tell the truth, Grant wisdom hits.

In one of his many bestsellers, 'Originals' offers valuable insights into how non-conformists drive innovation and change, drawing on insights from psychological studies and success stories to solidify a compelling case for readers. If you’re a fan of Malcom Gladwell, and I definitely am, you’ll feel right at home. I definitely recommend grabbing the book to get the full effect of Grant’s discovery, but here are seven unique lessons from the book to help you get started unleashing your inner original:

1. Question the default

An interesting tidbit on browsers that I had never thought about: “To get Firefox or Chrome [rather than the default Internet Explorer or Safari browsers], you have to demonstrate some resourcefulness and download a different browser. Instead of accepting the default, you take a bit of initiative to seek out an option that might be better. And that act of initiative, however tiny, is a window into what you do at work.”

Rejecting the basis of the starting point is often the first step towards being an original. No matter who you are, you have the potential to stand up for creative thinking. Like one of the greatest presidents and rule-breakers Abraham Lincoln, “He was one of you and yet he became Abraham Lincoln.”

2. Quantity drives quality

“To generate a handful of masterworks, Mozart composed more than 600 pieces before his death at thirty-five, Beethoven produced 650 in his lifetime, and Bach wrote over a thousand.”

Grant suggests that the more ideas you generate, the greater the likelihood of stumbling upon a gem. Instead of waiting for the perfect idea to strike, try coming up with a large number of ideas, even if they seem silly or irrelevant at first. This practice helps to foster creativity and originality and keep the light switch on.

3. Seek open communication and feedback from your target audience

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

When evaluating ideas, it's crucial to get input from your intended audience. We’ve learned this the hard way at PSV. While experts can provide valuable insights, your target audience is often the most reliable predictor of an idea's potential success. Don't be afraid to share your ideas with them and adapt based on their feedback.

Successful leaders create environments where employees feel safe expressing their opinions and challenging the status quo. You might have read this in a previous post about Bob Iger’s leadership style. Fostering open communication and encouraging constructive criticism can help organizations identify innovative ideas and avoid groupthink. Embrace a culture of curiosity and respect to unlock your team's full creative potential.

4. Embrace urgency to spark creativity

“When we're determined to reach an objective, it's the gap between where we are and where we aspire to be that lights a fire under us.”

A sense of urgency can motivate us to develop creative solutions. When we feel pressed for time, we are more likely to think outside the box and come up with innovative ideas. By creating artificial deadlines or placing constraints on your work, you can tap into this urgency and boost your creative output.

5. Procrastination can be a creative resource

A study from Peter Golder and Gerard Tellis comparing the success of “pioneers” (first movers) and “settlers” (followers) found “a staggering different in the failure rates: 47 percent for pioneers, compared with just 8 percent for settlers. Even when the pioneers did survive, they only captured an average of 10 percent of the market, compared with 28 percent for the settlers”

In an interesting turn, Grant proposes that strategic procrastination can actually benefit the creative process. By allowing ideas to marinate in your mind, you might discover new angles or connections that you wouldn't have otherwise. Instead of feeling guilty about procrastination, try to use it as an opportunity for reflection and inspiration. “Being original doesn’t require being first. It just means being different and better.”

6. Fear of failure can stifle originality

“In one study across manufacturing, service, retail and nonprofit settings, the more frequently employees voiced ideas and concerns upward, the less likely they were to receive raises and promotions over a two year period.”

The fear of failure often prevents individuals from pursuing their innovative ideas. To combat this, Grant suggests that we reframe our perspective on failure. Instead of seeing it as a personal shortcoming, view it as an opportunity to learn and improve. Surround yourself with supportive people who embrace risk-taking, and remember that even the most successful innovators have experienced their share of failures.

7. Adopt a portfolio mindset

“Having a sense of security in one realm gives us the freedom to be original in another.”

Innovation is inherently risky, so it's essential to diversify your efforts. Just as investors spread their funds across various assets, individuals should apply a portfolio mindset to their projects. Pursue a range of ideas and initiatives to maximize your chances of success and minimize the impact of potential failures. This approach helps to mitigate risk while fostering a sense of curiosity and exploration.

In 'Originals', Adam Grant offers a fresh perspective on creativity, innovation, and leadership - and even better, it’s backed by actual research and study. Incorporating these seven lessons into your personal and professional life might not lead you to inventing the next iPhone, but it may just give you permission to unleash your inner original and challenge the status quo.

Thanks for reading!

Jason Walkow

Jason Walkow is Head of Design at Plain Sight Ventures. In his free time, Jason enjoys running, eating at the newest spots, and anything coffee-related.

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