Originals: To Change the World, Dare to Challenge the Norm

‘Originals’ by Adam Grant, author of ‘Give and Take’, takes a fresh look at the topic of success through the lenses of creativity and conformity. In his New York Times bestseller, Grant writes that the basis for becoming a change agent is originality. However, in order to harness the power of originality, one has to move past the ‘group thinking’ mentality. Originals is a new take on old concepts, filled with powerful strategies for how to bring forth your creative ideas and advocate for their implementation.

This book really resonated with me as an entrepreneur and mentor. Founders and leaders of organizations typically face significant opposition to concepts or strategies simply because they are thinking outside the box. At the same time, we know that the only way to grow and succeed is by challenging existing paradigms. Grant offers us some excellent advice, stressing the importance of generating lots of ideas, because not all are going to succeed. In a personal interview, he said that “Great entrepreneurs have more bad ideas than their peers, because they come up with more ideas than their peers”.

Grant recommends using fellow entrepreneurs as sounding boards, since our own intuition is not always the best measure of which ideas are worth pursuing. We obviously tend to be very passionate about our ideas, and once we feel strong enough to break out of the box we might lose our objectivity. “Make your unfamiliar ideas more familiar by connecting them to concepts that audiences already understand”, he says, “like when Warby Parker said they were going to do for glasses what Zappos did for shoes”.

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Grant revealed that he was inspired by his own struggles to have his ideas heard by his first employers. This prompted him to study the subject in graduate school. Later, after he published ‘Give and Take’, leaders of organizations began to approach him, seeking advice on how to fight ‘groupthink’ and promote innovation. He said that at the same time, students were coming to his office and asking for tips on how to speak up and drive change when they were not the boss. Grant saw that these were two sides to the same coin: “Individuals needed insights about how to champion new ideas and leaders were seeking guidance on how to build cultures that would unleash those ideas.” Seeing that there were very few books on the topic, ‘Originals’ came to life.

How Do We Become Challengers?

Grant speaks about the importance of nurturing our children so they are unafraid to challenge their teachers. As parents and educators, we have a responsibility to prepare children to develop and present their own thinking, to break free from group thinking and the embedded norms that seem to be set in concrete. As he points out, this is one of the dangers of social media; it builds conformity. As leaders within our businesses, we must create space that encourages our employees to bring forth their novel ideas without fear of degradation or punishment
Women also tend to find themselves as restricted as children in the classroom when it comes to advocating for their own ideas. Grant notes that unfortunately, when women do speak up, they tend to face harsh criticism for rocking the boat and violating the gender stereotypes of women as caring and communal. Ironically, if a woman is fighting for the idea of a co-worker, she is accepted because this is viewed as being ‘communal’. “It’s often especially important for women to highlight how the ideas they’re proposing can benefit the team or the organization”, says Grant, “But it’s even more for men to step up and shine a spotlight on the great ideas that women bring to the table.

More Than a Theory

Adam Grant’s book is believable because its author shares true stories of specific well-known individuals, and amazing ways in which they managed to challenge the status quo. He may be a professor, but Originals is not a theory book. Through serious case studies, Grant provides the reader with clear-cut strategies for changing the world, such as how to move past the opposition and not be silenced by it, and how to build a team to advocate for your ideas. I enjoyed this book thorough, in fact I’ve read it twice now, and would highly recommend it!