A couple months ago, I worked by way through Adam Grant's Originals. In it, Grant lays out dozens of stories of how non-conformists were able to overcome the status quo and impact the world, and in the process identifies the keys to their successes. It was a fascinating read. I'm glad I took notes on each chapter, because there would be no way I could have remembered all the ideas I picked up. Below are the ones I found most insightful. If you'd like some context, head on down to your local library and pick up the book yo'sef!
Chapter 1: Creative Destruction
Contrary to popular belief, successful entrepreneurs are more risk-managing than others.
A balanced risk portfolio means that stability in other areas of life allows originals to take extreme risks in their area of focus.
Vuja de-- looking at familiar things in an unfamiliar way-- is a key skill of originals.
Chapter 2: Blind Inventors and One-Eyed Investors
Successful originals are more prolific than other creators. The number one path to original is to do a huge volume of work. There is no trade-off between quality and quantity. Most of what everyone does is a failure, but your odds of success are heightened with fecundity. Most people fail to achieve originality because they generate a few ideas and then obsess about refining them to perfection.
Artistic avocations help us to be more creative. Here is some data on how different types of hobbies stack up:
Chapter 3: Out on a Limb
Giving people the negatives about your ideas inoculates them against the negative and counter-intuitively makes them more open to the ideas.
Frequent, short exposure to ideas warms people up to them. It often takes twenty or more exposures to achieve the desired effect. Marketers know this.
If we could do things over, most of us would censor ourselves less and express our ideas more.
Below are the four strategies we can choose when we are confronted with a situation we'd like to change:
Chapter 4: Fools Rush In
Procrastination allows creative, engaged people to generate more original and novel ideas.
People have a better memory for incomplete tasks than complete ones, because once something is finished, we stop thinking about it.
The best architects and CEOs rate themselves the lowest on efficiency, promptness, self-control, and conscientiousness, but as more spontaneous.
Great originals procrastinate strategically, making gradual progress by testing and refining different possibilities.
First-move disadvantage: Most pioneers fail, and most settlers succeed. Unless there are patents or strong network effects involved, it is usually better to wait, balance your risk portfolio, and learn from the mistakes of the pioneers rather than be impulsive.
Young geniuses vs old masters: there are two radically different styles of innovation: conceptual (young sprinters) and experimental (old marathoners). Conceptual innovators like Einstein and Cummings eventually become the captives of an important early achievement and become entrenched in their once-new mindset. Conversely, while experimental innovation can require years or decades to accumulate the requisite knowledge and skill, it becomes a more sustainable source of originality. The more experiments you run (or speeches you give, like MLK Jr), the less you become constrained by your ideas from the past. So be relentlessly curious and constantly tinkering.
Chapter 5: Goldilocks and the Trojan Horse: Tempered Radicalism
Our former adversaries are the most effective at persuading others to join our movements because they can marshall better arguments on our behalf because they understand the doubts and misgivings of resisters.
Transparency isn't always the best policy. Sometimes you have to disguise your real objective if it is going to be considered too radical.
Chapter 6: Rebel with a cause
Firstborns are raised by their parents and the path to success by conformity is open to them.
Laterborns are raised by their siblings and don't have as many responsibilities. If they are 2-5 years away from their older sibling(s), they are more likely to pick a more original, risky, creative niche. Laterborns are much more likely to engage in dangerous sports and behaviors, steal bases, and be comedians. But wherever we fall in the birth order, when we have compelling role models or mentors for originality, they expand our awareness of niches that we had never considered.
Originals are much more likely to have been raised in a family where principles were explained to them in age-appropriate ways rather than commanded to follow rules. Empathy and guilt are crucial emotions to draw out.
When children do something good, praise their character, not their action-- this will result in more internalization of those traits.
Chapter 7 Rethinking Groupthink
Popular ideas of the phenomenon of groupthink do not recognize that there are usually people in the group who dissent, but who do not feel safe or empowered to speak up.
Idea meritocracies occur when leaders exemplify radical transparency and openness to criticism and employees are rewarded for criticism and punished for staying silent. Healthy debate where strong opinions are weakly held and the most important principle is that people think for themselves. An example is Ray Dalio's Bridgewater Hedge Fund.
Chapter 8 Rocking the Boat and Keeping it Steady
When we are not yet committed to a particular action, thinking like a defensive pessimist can be hazardous. Looking on the bright side and labeling strong emotion as excitement rather than anxiety activates enthusiasm and increases success in sudden, stressful situations. But once we've settled on a course of action, when anxieties creep in, it's better to think like a defensive pessimist and confront them directly. This enables us to harness anxiety as a source of motivation to prepare him to succeed.
It is important to get early small wins so that when doubts arise, one can look back and draw upon successes already attained.
Humor is a powerful tool in the face of oppression.
Adopting original causes requires a sense of urgency.
If you want people to modify their behavior from the status quo to a risky behavior, it is better to highlight the costs of not changing rather than the benefits of changing, since people are usually comfortable with the status quo and want to avoid risk. You have to cultivate dissatisfaction, frustration, or anger at the current state of affairs. But if the new behavior is safe, it is better to emphasize all the good things that will happen if they do it.
Venting doesn't extinguish the flame of anger; it feeds it. Avoiding venting was a central theme in the training of civil rights activists. To channel anger productively, we need to reflect on the victims who have suffered from it.