Most major breakthroughs in our world are made by a handful of people who dare to think differently. Adam Grant calls them the “Originals”. Using various real-life stories and examples of how Originals succeed and fail, Grant shows that creativity can be nurtured. He explains how each of us can think originally and improve our chances of innovating successfully, to make a greater impact.
In this summary of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World”, we’ll outline some of the key ideas from this book in 2 parts: Managing the risks of originality, and unleashing originality at work and at home. For the full examples and tips, do get a copy of the book, or get a detailed overview with our complete book summary bundle.
Being original is simply about taking a less traveled path to pursue fresh ideas and improvements, even if they conflict with the prevailing norms. It involves (a) having a novel concept and (b) taking action to make it a reality.
Originals are ordinary people like you and I. They don’t have special inborn talents, unusual passion and conviction, nor a huge appetite for risk. In fact, many famous people didn’t pursue/publish their ideas until they were “forced” to do so. Michelangelo refused to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling fresco because he saw himself as a sculptor rather than a painter. He only agreed to the project after 2 years, after the Pope’s persistence and insistence.
Managing the Risks of Originality
New, untested ideas are naturally risky. By studying how Originals succeed and why they fail, we can improve our chances of innovating successfully. In our summary, we’ve organized these ideas into 4 key segments:
GENERATING AND SELECTING IDEAS
One of the key challenges with creativity is not the lack of fresh ideas, but selecting the right ideas and getting buy-in to make them a reality. The book covers numerous tips and examples on how to generate, select and refine ideas so they actually work.
• One of the tips is to use “strategic procrastination”. In an experiment, students who procrastinated delivered proposals that were 28% more creative. Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 was written only the night before the event, even though he started gathering material and advice months prior. In fact, the most memorable lines from the speech (including the dream angle) were improvised on the day itself. King was able to do so because he had a wealth of material without prematurely committing himself to 1 angle. The key is to take a break after working on an idea. When a task is incomplete, it stays active on your mind—let it incubate while you explore new options, so you avoid being prematurely fixated on an idea and allow better options to surface.
• In the book / full Originals book summary, we zoom in on other tips to generate/refine ideas effectively, e.g. (a) how to expand your frame of reference (to improve our creativity), (b) how to tap on late-mover advantages, (c) how to adapt your mode of thinking to sustain your creativity as you age, (d) when to use intuition vs analysis to evaluate ideas, and (e) why you should get feedback from your peers or fellow creators (vs managers, evaluators or your own opinions).
VOICING AND CHAMPIONING ORIGINAL IDEAS
How you push for an unconventional idea can affect your career, relationships and determine whether the idea gets adopted. In the book / full 14-page summary, we explain various tips to pitch your idea more effectively, e.g. (a) why/how you should highlight the downsides of your idea, (b) how to present and frame your idea in a way that makes it familiar, clear and appealing to your target audience, (c) why you should focus on “how” instead of “why”, (d) how to seek out the right people for support and (e) why you must build both power and status to effectively champion your new idea.
Change triggers feelings like fear, doubt and anger. To see your ideas through, you need to manage your own emotions and overcome others’ negative feelings toward change. In the book / complete summary, we elaborate on how to (a) use “strategic optimism” and “defensive pessimism” as coping strategies, (b) manage your fears, (c) redirect your anger constructively, (d) inspire others and (e) create a sense of urgency to spur action.
On New Year’s Eve of 2000, Serbian political activist Srdja Popovic and his friends organized a celebration in the Republic Square. Close to midnight, the square went dark and people began counting down. At midnight, instead of rock bands and performances, people were shocked to hear depressing music followed by an announcement that there was nothing to celebrate after a year of war and oppression. That night, Serbians went home with the message that 2000 was the year for change.
CREATING AND MAINTAINING COALITIONS
To create massive change, we need others’ support. Besides pitching your idea effectively, there are 2 interesting strategies that could improve your success in forging coalitions:
• Work with others who share common tactics, not necessarily those who share common goals/beliefs. Radical groups tend to adopt an extreme “all or nothing” view which makes it hard for other moderate groups to relate to them. Hence, it may be easier to find partners who share the same tactics, as it still offers a sense of affinity.
• Work with your enemies, not frenemies. It’s not true that your friends are the best partners and your enemies the worst. However, when it comes to alliances, it may be better to cut off the frenemies (those who swing between supporting and undermining you) and try to win over our enemies. Research found that predictably-negative relationships are actually less stressful than ambivalent ones that keep you second-guessing. Moreover, when you convert someone from negative to positive, they tend to be more motivated to maintain a positive relationship. They’re also more effective in persuading others to join us, since they know others’ concerns and appear more credible.
Unleashing Originality at Work and at Home
The book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World ends off with several insights on how we can unlock originality at work and at home. Do refer to our full 14-page summary for more details and examples. In a nutshell:
NURTURING ORIGINALITY IN CHILDREN
By adjusting how discipline is enforced, parents and teachers can influence how kids respond to rules and exercise originality. The book covers several strategies to nurture creative children, e.g. (a) focus on values over rules (so children can internalize the rationale behind the rules and adapt accordingly), (b) expose your children to a various real-life and fictional role-models and (c) reinforce good behaviors by associating them with good character.
CULTIVATING ORIGINALITY AT THE WORKPLACE
At work, one of the biggest enemies of originality is groupthink, i.e. the tendency to follow the majority instead of embracing diversity. The book explains how you can (a) build a culture that promotes diversity and creativity, (b) foster dissent and divergent thinking, and (c) create channels to invite questions and feedback to expand your range of perspectives and options.
Other Details in “Originals”
Adam Grant uses a wide range of detailed stories and case studies—from business ideas to social change and politics—to explain the key concepts and insights about originality, before ending the book with list of action recommendations for individuals, leaders, parents and teachers. In our full summary, we distill the main insights, actionable tips and outline several key examples to illustrate these ideas. Do get a copy of the book or our Originals book summary bundle, or check out more resources, details and do a free originality assessment at www.adamgrant.net.
Make your own creative breakthroughs today!