Book Review: Originals

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Adam Grant titled his book: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, but that’s not exactly right. Here’s how he describes what it means to be original in this book.

“Originality itself starts with creativity: generating a concept that is both novel and useful. But it doesn’t stop there. Originals are people who take the initiative to make their visions a reality.”

The good news is that originality is not a fixed trait. Like many other things in life, you can develop your skills and get better over time.

That’s what Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World is about. If you’re interested in being more original, or in making a contribution to the world, or in having a more satisfying life, this book will help you. The core of Originals is made up of eight chapters.

  • Creative Destruction: The Risky Business of Going Against the Grain
  • Blind Inventors and One-Eyed Investors: The Art and Science of Recognizing Original Ideas
  • Out On a Limb: Speaking the Truth to Power
  • Fools Rush In: Timing, Strategic Procrastination, and The First Mover Disadvantage
  • Goldilocks and The Trojan Horse: Creating and Maintaining Coalitions
  • Rebel With a Cause: How Siblings, Parents, and Mentors Nurture Originality
  • Rethinking Groupthink: The Myths of Strong Cultures, Cults, and Devil’s Advocates
  • Rocking The Boat and Keeping It Steady: Managing Anxiety, Apathy, Ambivalence, and Anger

There’s also a section called “Actions for Impact.” It’s an excellent overview of the material in the book with good advice on how to put what you’ve read about into practice.

Brand New Insights

I identified two kinds of insights in the book. The first were, if you’ll pardon the expression, “Original.” Here are a few.

I learned that a sense of security in one realm of life makes us able to take risks in another realm of life. Those risk-taking entrepreneurs aren’t risk-takers all the time. Instead, they and we maintain a kind of risk portfolio. That made perfect sense when I read it, but I’d never thought of things that way before.

I found many insights in this book about judging and presenting ideas. I’ve spent most of my adult life as a writer and speaker, but the book produced several “aha!” moments.

There are lots of insights on parenting. They’re the sort of thing I wish I had known decades ago. Now I plan to pass them on to my children who have children of their own.

If you’re in business and looking for the people who can make your business go and grow there’s lots of good advice for you. Read about the hiring blueprints (professional, star, and commitment) and how they work (or don’t) in different situations.

Insights that Deepened Understanding

There are also lots of insights here that deepened my understanding. Grant describes things that match my experience, but by describing them and analyzing them, he added the “why” to make my experience and understanding richer. Here’s one example in a quote from the book.

“Research demonstrates that it is the most creative children who are the least likely to become the teacher’s pet.”

That was me. I was the kid that was always coming up with a new idea about how to do things, and I most definitely was not my teachers’ pets. After reading Originals I understood the situation better than before. Here’s another example.

I’ve known for years that it wasn’t necessarily an advantage to be the first mover in an industry. What Grant added for me was some of the reasons why.

A Small Quibble

I only have a quibble with one part of the book, and it truly is a quibble, not a major issue.

Grant describes how some originals procrastinate creatively. My quibble is that I don’t call what he describes “procrastination.” For me, “procrastination” is delaying something you should be doing right now. What Grant describes is a way of working. Here’s the quote where I pick my nit.

“When we bemoan the lack of originality in the world, we blame it on the absence of creativity. If only people could generate more novel ideas, we’d all be better off. But in reality, the biggest barrier to originality is not idea generation— it’s idea selection.”

Actually, my experience and research say that often the problem occurs between idea generation and idea selection. People generate novel ideas all the time. What sets originals apart is that they’re good at capturing the ideas that they get. Ideas are like butterflies on the wind. If you don’t capture them, they’re gone in an instant.

You have to capture ideas so you have a big pile of ideas to play with. The more you have the more likely you are to have an excellent idea and you increase the number of possible connections between ideas.

When I start working on a project, I start capturing ideas as I get them, using my trusty voice recorder. The ideas wind up in a file in no particular order. Over time, the file grows and I start seeing some connections.

When I’m ready to start concentrated work I have a lot of stuff that I can use. Often, I put the key ideas on index cards and move them around until they start to make sense. Or I write a “zero draft” to get more ideas and find out where I need research or clarification.

Sometimes it just doesn’t work. I can’t see how to turn the ideas into writing. Then I consign them to my writing compost file. See my post, “Post or Compost” to see how that works.

One More Thing

There’s one more thing you should know. This book is a delight to read. The stories are mostly original and well-told. By original, I mean that they’re not the stories you see in just about every other business or self-help book. In addition, they’re supported by solid research, and many times the story that’s being told is the story of the research itself.

Bottom Line

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World is filled with information and insights for many areas of your life.

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John Wren   |   08 Aug 2016   |   Reply

Reading a summary instead of reading a good book is like admiring the photograph of a beautiful woman instead of taking her to dinner. Better use of time is to go to a good library or bookstore, pre-read books like this. (If you don’t know how your next book should be Mortimer Addler’s How to Read a Book) every once in a great while you’ll fall in love, and even when you don’t you will have had several interesting conversations/.