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Book Review: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World by Adam Grant
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Book Review: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World by Adam Grant - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World by Adam Grant

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World by Adam Grant

In his 2014 book Give and Take, Adam Grant presents a detailed case for a giving mindset in business and relationships, suggesting that a sincere, giving spirit “drives success.” An important part of his argument is that giving isn’t strictly the domain of “larger-than-life” heroes such as Mother Teresa or Mahatma Gandhi, who moved the world with enormous acts of selflessness. Rather, it “just involves a focus on acting in the interest of others, such as by giving help, providing mentoring, sharing credit, or making connections for others.” Similarly, in his new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World (Viking, 2016), he is careful to explain that original, non-conformist thinking isn’t the exclusive domain of the creative genius, but that we can all achieve a certain originality with a few shifts in our thinking and practice, asserting that “the hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.”

Heavy on narrative anecdote, Give and Take presents several culturally familiar non-conformists, peeling back the well-known in order to reveal some new thinking. We think of Steve Jobs as a true original, which he certainly was, but what can we learn about that time Jobs was wrong about a new invention he was certain would change the world? We put Susan B. Anthony on our currency, but what do we know about her parting of ways with another suffragist leader whose ideals and practice were more effective in furthering their shared cause? Grant’s here’s-what-you-know-but-what-about-this approach is fascinating and illuminating, in some ways demystifying originality and making it accessible. He offers enough scholarly research and explication to make sense of counter-intuitive thinking, such as his point that procrastination and hesitation on important, new ideas can be of greater benefit than being the first one out there with a new thought. “Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity, but it can be a resource for creativity,” he writes in an exploration of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, and how preparation and procrastination worked together in the realization of an American historical mile-marker.

In one memorable section, Grant points out that people who are first-born children in their families tend to be careful and measured, while later-borns (especially those who have at least two older siblings) are risk-takers and less fearful. It’s a good illustration of our general attitude about being born original or not being born original. If you’ve ever looked at creative people in your office as being “naturally gifted” with originality, you’ve expressed this belief. But Grant shares that the habits of thinking displayed by later-borns can be practiced by anyone.

Grant’s prose and his thesis are accessible and readable, although the organization of each chapter can be difficult to follow. This one drawback in his presentation is perhaps because of his fondness (and proclivity) for storytelling. The stories are fascinating, but they sometimes take the reader far away from the point, so that when Grant circles back around, we forget whether the illustration is of a Roman-numeral argument or a lower-case-letter support in his outline. Second readings (or even skimmings) pay off for the reader who is determined to see the bones and joints that build Grant’s case. Thankfully, those second readings are as pleasurable as the first.

The skeleton of his argument is clear. First, Grant takes a look at managing risk in developing and sharing original ideas; then he examines the way originality can be scaled so that it is more likely to be embraced by stakeholders; then he offers a few thoughts on “unleashing and scaling” originality at home and at work. He concludes with reflections on the emotions that hold us back from pursuing originality. Originals succeeds in an almost reverse transcendentalist way, taking big, universal thoughts and then bringing them down to specific, earthly examples, and then transferring the grounded thinking horizontally so that we can grasp them and share them with others. This is Grant’s best asset as a writer, the ability not only to break down the forces that gave us the TV series Seinfeld, but then to convince us that creating or recognizing the value of this originality is within our grasp.


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Book Review: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World by Adam Grant - Executive Leadership Articles

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