Originals (How Non-Conformists Move the World) by Adam Grant

Adam Grant is an original. He is a researcher. In this book, it will show that anyone can be a creator and have brilliant ideas. Procrastination can have its benefits too. The book will convince you that every individual can make a difference. Adam believes strongly in gender equality. He is also a patient man who is able to care deeply for others.

Creative Destruction. A group of students wanted to topple the market leader, Luxottica, in eyewear. It was a massive task. They sold theirs online and donated a pair to someone in the developing world with every purchase. Their website was named Warby Parker. Now, their company is valued at over $1 billion. They had immerse courage to go against the grain and create something original. Nothing is truly ‘original’. They made glasses accessible and affordable online. Why were Firefox and Chrome users more committed in their work than Internet Explorer users? The issue was that they had to download it as it was not available with a new PC. This proved that these users took initiatives in their work. They were those who sought novel solutions to problems at work. Many accept the default state of life. Some people justify the status quo to be the best, even those it might work against their interests. The key to be creative is to reject the default and explore a different option. Learn to question the status quo. Luxottica was charging a lot because of their monopoly status. Child prodigies’ career doesn’t often live up to their potential. This is because they usually go against the grain. They do not learn to be original. Sometimes, it is those people who have done bad who are the most creative as they set their own rules. Many prodigies choose to play it safe. Many of America’s early politicians were revolutionaries in their own way. Many of the famous people gave up their dreams of a secure life to do something extraordinary. Many people fear speaking up for fear of being judged. Many of us choose to fit in rather than stand out. The key is to take radical risks. We often feel that famous people are talented or have better genes. They are somehow programmed differently. I was hesitant about the business model of selling spectacles online. They didn’t seem to fit my model of a successful entrepreneur. They didn’t seem committed enough. These people are actually very human after all. If you hold on to a full time job and start something on the side, you are far unsure of yourself. However, the results showed that those who kept day jobs had 33% lower odds of failure than those who quit. You cannot simply gamble. It is not bad to stay in your current day job. Originals like to play it safe sometimes. Is it wise to risk it all? Successful people balance risks and do not go all out. It is like diversification of risks to reduce overall portfolio risk. Therefore, having stability in other aspects of your life are important. Having financial stability is very important. You must be able to fall back on something. The key is to take extreme risks on either sides. Risk mitigation is the key. The group of guys did market research to understand demand before embarking on their business. Entrepreneurs are actually risk-averse people deep down. They are smart and avoid dangerous risks. They do not leap before they look. Originality is a free choice which we can all exercise. Many of the limits at work are due to your own making. How do you champion an idea successfully? It is not always the wisest to be the first mover and there is value in procrastination. Champions of originality are those that propel humanity forward. Taking action is the key.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. – George Bernard Shaw

Once people pass an intermediate level in the need to achieve, there is evidence that they actually become less creative. – Todd Lubart/Robert Sternberg

Although we may not all aspire to start our own companies, create a masterpiece, transform Western thought, or lead a civil rights movement, we do have ideas for improving our workplaces, schools, and communities. Sadly, many of us hesitate to take action to promote these ideas. – Adam Grant

No person could possibly be original in one area unless he were possessed of the emotional and social stability that comes from fixed attitudes in all areas other than the one in which he is being original. – Edwin Land

Blind Inventors and One-Eyed Investors. Segway was one of best tech flops. Idea generation is usually not the big issue. The big issue is idea selection. Seinfeld turned out to be an unexpected success. How can you pick the right idea from a crowd? Dean Kamen invented the Segway. He was a genius who also invented many other products. He predicted that it would revolutionize the transportation mode. However, it is known that people tend to be overconfident when evaluating themselves. It is difficult for creative people to take criticism. They rely on confirmation bias. Creative people tend to be the best judges of the quality of their ideas. The trick is to come up with a huge number of ideas. If you do this, you will find some hits and misses. The more you produce, the greater the chance of a hit emerging. Many of Einstein’s 248 publications had little impact under that the one on general and special relativity. Thomas Edison filed thousands of patents. Your first ideas are usually too similar to the conventional ones. Headline #25 will usually be the one that makes it big. Dean settled on Segway without exploring many other options. Learn to get feedback in any way you can for your ideas. Dean didn’t obtain enough feedback on the potential of Segway. There was nothing like Seinfeld ever on TV. We tend to reject novelty on first impression and in uncertainty. People tend to compare what has been produced with what has produced in the past. Audiences generally do not respond to things that are new or different. However, peer evaluation is much more accurate than focus groups. You get other creative people to provide feedback. However, they mustn’t be related to your project or it won’t work. To gain your admiration of your peers is a huge boost. Managers tend to have an evaluation and judging mindset right from the start. Learn to be accustomed to different experiences so that you will be more receptive to different ideas. Broad and deep experience is the key. Creative people in various fields then to be into the arts industry as well. If you are well versed in certain fields, you must be able to bring connections together. Working abroad matters and it can certainly hone your creativity juices. You also need to work abroad for a substantial period of time. Steve Jobs often made bets based on intuition. He was wrong about the Segway. He didn’t have any knowledge in transportation. There were critics of the Segway and these people were eventually proven right. Intuition only works in a predictable environment. Steve Jobs was caught in one of his success trap. Some people might be impressed by a sales pitch and rely on intuition and agree to invest in that person’s products. Some people are better at inventing than running a business. It is important to analyze a person’s actions rather than just what he says.

The most important possible thing you could do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. – Ira Glass

It’s widely assumed that there’s a tradeoff between quantity and quality – if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it – but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality. – Adam Grant

Out on a Limb. There was a delay in issuing intelligence reports and the information was not relevant once it was released. Medina proposed a new system which was very helpful. She suggested that they use Intranet. The problem was that electronic communication wasn’t very secure. Everyone ignored her suggestion. She spoke out too much and was forced to leave. Later, she created Intellipedia. It was a platform for different agencies to access each others’ knowledge. It is necessary to speak up credibly in order to gain people’s respect. When should you speak up? It is important not to jeopardize your career and relationships. How can we reduce the risks of speaking up? Research shows that speaking up can be detrimental if not done properly. If you exercise power without having status, you tend to be punished. If you know that you aren’t respect, you tend to treat others worse than usual. Status must be earned or granted. The trick is to try to earn status. Dressing differently can gain you more respect. She built some rebels within the organization as well. Understand what the sarick effect is. Sometimes, you should state the reasons why others should not invest in your business. It could indirectly work in your favour. The Sarick effect is named after the social scientist, Leslie Sarick. If your audience is supportive already, it is useful to state all your strengths. However, if they are skeptical, maybe you should state the flaws in your idea. This helps to disarm your audience. It is necessary to be balanced in your presentations. Some people think that if you criticize well, it will make you seem cultured and of outstanding quality. It might make you look smart. Reviews should not be written too positively. Being upfront with your downsides is that it makes you more trustworthy. You need confidence to reveal your weaknesses straight away. Unfamiliarity breeds contempt. Most of the time, humans are overconfident of their predictions. When you are communicating an idea, it can be very tough. You have no idea how the audience will receive it since it is the first time they are hearing it. We tend to under-communicate our ideas. ‘Eminent psychologist Robert Zajonc called it the mere exposure effect: the more often we encounter something, the more we like it.’ This mere exposure effect has been around everywhere. An unfamiliar photo requires us to take more effort to process. For ideas, it is useful to have repeated exposure. The audience will grow to like it even more. To pitch an idea well, the presentation of the idea and the evaluation of it should have a time gap. You have 4 responses you can take when you hate something. They are exit, voice, persistence or neglect. Exit means quitting. Voice is trying to improve things by voicing out. Persistence is gritting your teeth and bearing it. Neglect means staying in your current situation but reducing your effort. Speaking up means you believe that things can change and that you can make a difference. Agreeable people do not like to speak up and ruin the status quo. Disagreeable people derive joy in speaking up. Managers who like to challenge status quo tend to be more open to ideas. Many people do not like to speak up. It is detrimental for the middle segment of an organization to speak up. For females, it is especially difficult to speak up. There are still strong gender stereotypes being present. Females who speak up tend to be seen as aggressive. For minorities, it is very important to speak up only after they have attained a certain level of status. Neglect is certainly not the best option. Exit is very bad for originality.

Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. – Albert Einstein

Unbridled optimism comes across as salesmanship; it seems dishonest somehow, and as a consequence it’s met with skepticism. Everyone is allergic to the feeling, or suspicious of being sold. – Adam Grant

Research shows that the mistakes we regret are not errors of commission, but errors of omission. If we could do things over, most of us would censor ourselves less and express our ideas more. – Adam Grant

Fools Rush In. Timing, Strategic Procrastination, and the First-Mover Disadvantage. It is more difficult and time consuming to write a shorter than longer speech. Martin Luther King only prepared for his landmark speech in 1963 at 10pm the night before. The act of procrastination can work at times. We are always taught not to procrastinate and to do it immediately. Waiting prevents all your eggs to be dumped in 1 basket. Procrastination might result in divergent thinking. You might consider other concepts in the meantime. This is how creative ideas might spawn and form. Of course, procrastination hampers productivity. There are two forms of procrastination: laziness and waiting for the right time. Leonardo Da Vinci often left work unfinished and returned to it many years later. Genius is difficult to predict. It is not wise to rush originality. Procrastination means also not rushing into a pre-mature solution. We are able to improvise when we procrastinate. Successful companies often have leaders who have procrastinated in the past or who rated themselves low on efficiency and promptness. One can improvise if one procrastinates. Timing accounts for 42% of the difference between success and failure. In the past, we believe in the first mover advantage. Pioneers are 6 times more likely to fail than settlers. Although there are benefits associated with being a first mover, the overall results are mixed. Settlers are smart as they bide their time before introducing something new. Many start-ups fail because they try to scale and invest big before the market is ready. The benefit of not being first is that you can learn from the mistakes of the first. Being second also allows you to observe market changes and shift consumer tastes. Timing is everything. There are benefits to being first of course. In industries, like where patented technology and strong network effects are required, being first helps. Great scientific breakthroughs take time and elders should not be discounted. There will always be the case of late bloomers. There are two types of innovators: conceptual innovators and experimental innovators. The first one are sprinters and the second group are marathoners. Einstein was a conceptual innovator and came up with thought-experiments. Good things come to those experimentalists who persist in their work.

In scientific work, ideas need time to mature and procrastination is one way to restrain that urge to respond prematurely. – Adam Grant

Of course, not every unaccomplished 65-year-old is some undiscovered experimental innovator. But it might bolster the resolve of the relentlessly curious, the constantly tinkering, the dedicated tortoises undaunted by the blur of the hares. – Daniel Pink

Goldilocks and the Trojan Horse. Creating and Maintaining Coalitions. Lucy Stone did great things for women’s rights. She was a strong advocate for women’s rights. It inspired Susan B Anthony to join the suffrage movement as well. However, later on the both of them separated to form their own suffrage organization. Coalitions are inherently unstable. It is certainly important to form strong alliances. A moderately tempered message is useful to draw rivals in. Usually, someone who is radical will be against someone who is too mainstream. For instance, Stone also supported voting rights for black men, which seems against women’s causes. Shared tactics among groups are key to the success of forming coalitions. This could mean using the same method of engagement. Common goals were not good enough. Meredith Perry wanted to create wireless energy. She wanted to use ultrasound to convert it into wireless power. She founded a company called uBeam. She had to face many detractors along the way. It was so radical that the usual approach of explaining the why to others might not work too well. Originals have to become tempered radicals for things to work. This was like shifting from ‘why’ to ‘how’. Therefore, there is a need to disguise your original vision. The trick is to lead in with a small request first, before entering with a big one. If you do not moderate your radicalism, there is a high chance of failure. Occupy Wall Street was too radical and thus failed. Sometimes, we might have ambivalent relationships, these are people who support but also undermine us sometimes. Negative relationships are shown to hamper work performance. However, it was even worse when dealing with ambivalent relationships. Ambivalent relationships are even more nasty. The trick to cut ambivalent relationships and win over pure enemies. There are certainly a lot of merits to converting people who are former adversaries. The creators of Lion King faced resistance after they tried to pitch their ideas to the CEO and other executives. However, the creators showed the similarity with ‘Hamlet’ and this won the approval of the executives. People like things that are familiar and which can ultimately work. It is necessary to reframe ideas to appeal to certain audiences.

The message was clear: if you were a true believer, you’d be all in. The more strongly you identify with an extreme group, the harder you seek to differentiate yourself from more moderate groups that threaten your values. – Adam Grant

Originality is what everybody wants, but there’s a sweet spot. If it’s not original enough, it’s boring or trite. If it’s too original, it may be hard for the audience to understand. The goal is to push the envelope, not tear the envelope. – Rob Minkoff

Rebel with a Cause. How siblings, parents, and mentors nurture originality. ‘Stealing home’ gives the team a psychological lift. Progress always involves risk. The birth order was shown to predict who would steal more bases. Younger brothers were more likely to take a risk. They were more willing to take risks. All the famous ones were all younger siblings. The same applies to science and discovery. Later-borns were also more rebellious in nature. There are also advantages to being firstborn. They are known to enjoy higher starting salaries than laterborns. However, they are known to be more risk-averse. Older siblings tend to exert pressure over younger siblings, causing them to rebel. Comedians are a job which require great creativity. Many of them are last-borns. The older siblings tend to take up professional jobs. This is known as niche picking. Parents usually give more freedom to their younger children. They usually face lax rules and get away with more things. How parents discipline bad behavior and praise good behavior is crucial. To raise creative children, it is better to educate them on moral values and not specific rules. Once the children internalize the rules, it is a lot easier for the parent. It is good to let the child know the consequences of their actions. If the child does well, you should praise his character. However, this only works when the child’s identity is forming. Role models are important if you want to raise creative children. However, having a parent as your role model will tend not to make you super ambitious in life. It is not easy to find the right mentor. However, we can do so in accessible places like in books. It is also to be inspired by fictional characters. Children’s books can have a big impact on a child’s creativity.

When we shift our emphasis from behavior to character, people evaluate choices differently. Instead of asking whether this behavior will achieve the results they want, they take action because it is the right thing to do. – Adam Grant

Rethinking Groupthink. Edwin Land was the founder of Polaroid. He was one of the great inventors of our time. However, his company culture didn’t sing in tune. Their products were dismal in the 1980s and they didn’t embrace the digital era. Groupthink didn’t encourage dissent. They thought people wanted hard copies of pictures. Some people do not speak up because they do not want to destroy group harmony. You need the group to be cohesive and form a strong culture. Cohesion takes time to form. Are cohesive groups more susceptible to groupthink? Sometimes, it’s good to encourage others to complain about problems rather than solve them. There are three ways to hire: professional blueprint, commitment blueprint and star blueprint. Commitment blueprint was about hiring someone who fits in the company culture. Commitment blueprint was always the more superior model. The professional one was the worst. Kodak, in its early days, used the commitment blueprint of hiring too. However, in the long run, there are drawbacks to commitment blueprints. The issue is that it is difficult to integrate a diverse workforce. The culture is too similar and people do not adapt to changes. Land liked to seek advice from people who shared his own perspectives on things. Minority viewpoints are important and should not be disregarded. Dissenting opinions might be useful even though they are wrong. This is because it encourages divergent thinking. Overconfidence breeds Group Think. Dissenters got shut down and were silenced. Bridgewater Associates was known for having an incredible culture. Their principles are available online. The employees are well-trained on these principles and are evaluated on them. Its fund performances have been exemplary over time. They embrace a huge degree of diversification. Their founder is Ray Dalio. His employees are allowed to criticize him. Their culture was really open and completely honest. People can be fired if they don’t challenge the status quo. Radical transparency has worked. Some companies use a Devil Advocate’s to counteract Group Think. People tend to have confirmation bias: when you have a preference, you seek out information supporting it and overlook information that challenges it. While it is useful to assign a devil’s advocate, it is better to unearth a true dissenter. It must be genuine dissent. Dalio even went a step further as he wanted the names of true dissenters. It is natural for most leaders to not want employees to complain. However, when it comes to groupthink, it is useful to complain. It is novel to allow dissenters to speak up first, before the rest. At Bridgewater, not every opinion is valued equally. He had statistics on every aspect of employee’s performance. This metric will show you what position you should be playing. If you not believable in a domain, then you should not speak. People can challenge senior leaders in Bridgewater. Dalio was encouraged to prioritize his principles. His number 1 principle was that people must think for themselves. Dalio has also studied famous people like Benjamin Franklin, Einstein and all.

The greatest tragedy of mankind comes from the inability of people to have thoughtful disagreement to find out what’s true. – Ray Dalio

Rocking the Boat and Keeping It Steady. Managing Anxiety, Apathy, Ambivalence, and Anger. What is a good way to deal with emotions? How can you calm down effectively? There is value in negative thinking. There are two schools: strategic optimism and defensive pessimists. Research has shown that defensive pessimists can perform just as well. It is a strategy to manage anxiety, fear and worry. By intensifying anxiety, you turn it into motivation. Fear gets rid of all forms of complacency. When you are nervous, do not tell yourself to calm down. Instead, tell others that you are excited. It is possible to reframe fear as excitement. It is not too bad to imagine the worst case scenario. Being an original means you are bound to face difficulties. However, these difficulties can be a source of pleasure. Josh Silverman took over Skype in Feb 2008. For leaders, having a vision plus a story to go along helps to motivate employees. Most people like to follow the majority even though they know the answer given by the majority is wrong. This is known as herd mentality. It is helpful to have at least one dissenter in the group. Learn to use humor as a way of conquering fear. It is important to establish a sense of urgency. It is possible to generate ideas on how to cause a collapse of a company. Then, force them to think of solutions. The trick to get the buy-in from others is to present the status quo and to compare to what could be. The bigger the gap, the better. To motivate yourself when your commitment is wavering, it is useful to look at how far you have already come and the progress you have made thus far. There are two ways to deal with anxiety/anger: surface acting or deep acting. Surface acting is not the best option all the time. Deep acting is proven to be more sustainable. Faking emotions is tiring over time and we are not our normal selves. Venting anger actually feeds your anger. Instead, one should reflect on the victims who have suffered from our anger outbursts.

The trick is to make fear your friend. Fear forces you to prepare more rigorously and see potential problems more quickly. – Lewis Pugh

If you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy. – Jerry Seinfeld

Rather than trying to suppress a strong emotion like fear by telling ourselves to calm down, it’s easier to convert it into a different emotion like ‘excitement’ – one that’s equally intense, but propels us to step on the gas. – Adam Grant

Actions for Impact. There are steps you can take. Learn to question the status quo. Triple the number of ideas you generate. Learn a new domain and broaden your horizons. Procrastinate deliberately and pause so that you have time to engage in divergent thinking. Seek feedback from your peers. Balance your risk portfolio – for instance, cling on to your day job and start something on the side. Make your ideas more familiar, via use of repetition etc. Speak to a different audience. Learn to be a tempered radical if your idea is revolutionary. Learn to motivate yourself differently when you’re committed vs uncertain. Don’t try to calm down. Focus on the victim, not the perpetrator. Realize you’re not alone. Remember that if you don’t take initiative, the status quo will persist. As a leader, you can run an innovation tournament. Picture yourself as the enemy. Invite employees from different functions and levels to pitch ideas. Hold an opposite day. Ban the words like, love and hate. Hire not on cultural fit, but on cultural contribution. Shift from exit interviews to entry interviews. Ask for problems, not solutions. Stop assigning devil’s advocates and start unearthing them. Learn to welcome criticism. Ask children what their role models would do. Link good behavior to moral character. Explain how bad behaviors have consequences for others. Emphasize values over rules. Create novel niches for children to pursue.

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