In September 2017, we read “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World,” by Adam Grant, a book that “addresses the challenge of improving the world, but now from the perspective of becoming original: choosing to champion novel ideas and values that go against the grain, battle conformity, and buck outdated traditions.”
As a group, we shared our takeaways and lessons learned from the book.
Here were some of our favorite quotes, ideas and observations:
There is a widespread myth that great innovators must give up everything else to pursue their chosen fields. “Originals” debunks this myth by showing examples of innovators who hedged their bets. The founders of Warby Parker, for example, accepted other jobs and enrolled in advanced degrees as they were developing the company.
Originality does not adhere to the assumptions and structures that preceded it.
Intellipedia is an online system for collaborative data sharing used by the U.S. intelligence community. The analyst who introduced the system, Carmen Medina, was ignored and ostracized when she first posed the notion of collaborative data sharing. Years later, having been reassigned to another position, she rose to a position of status within the CIA. At this juncture, she successfully introduced Intellipedia. This example shows us that we must command a certain level of respect, hard-won over time, to introduce revolutionary thinking
Experts are vulnerable to the threat of group thinking because they amass a wealth of knowledge in a narrow field. Having varied interests and pursuits serves to defend against this phenomenon. For example, a study of Nobel Laureates in science shows that those who also pursued the arts in their spare time, such as dance, painting and poetry, were orders of magnitude more likely to win the Nobel Prize.
There is a value to naysaying and pessimism, a perspective that allows some people to anticipate the many possible threats to their business. Dreaming up all of these scenarios can promote creative solutions and guard against dangers that others might’ve missed.
And we did have some criticisms:
The book neglects the role that nature plays in our development, presuming that originality can always be learned, given the right practices. Innate ability certainly plays a role. It would’ve been interesting to see how innate abilities or natural tendencies manifest in original thinking.
The author also seems to downplay the role that timing and circumstances played in some of the success stories he cites. Certainly all of the “originals” included in this book are exceptional, but to omit the role that other factors played in these success stories seems a bit misleading.