Originals by Adam Grant

It’s always a good sign when, before finishing a book, you’ve already bought a copy for two people and recommend it to several others.

I was quite wary before opening ‘Originals’, my expectations inflated by it appearing on nearly everyone’s ‘books you must read in 2016 (if you still want to seem relevant / cool / interesting)’ list. But it really is a superb book, full of stories and anecdotes to bring the behavioural theory to life, and practical enough to give you ideas for things to do differently when you walk into the office tomorrow.

Most importantly, it scored highly on my scientific ‘fold page for interesting bits’ method.

So here are the best bits from those pages I folded…


On generating ideas

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

  • The most prolific innovators generate their most original output during the period in which they produce the largest volume of work (Edison had 1093 patents). People fail because they generate a few ideas and then obsess about refining them to perfection.
  • It’s often only once we rule out the obvious that we have the greatest freedom to consider the more remote possibilities
  • ‘If you’re gonna make connections which are innovative, you have to not have the same bag of experience as everyone else does’ – Steve Jobs
  • When you put off a task, you buy yourself time to engage in divergent thinking rather than foreclosing on one idea, and as a result consider a wider range of original concepts


On choosing the best ideas

  • The biggest barrier to originality isn’t idea generation but idea selection. We don’t suffer from a shortage of ideas; rather a shortage of people who excel at choosing the right novel ideas.

  • The best way to get better at judging our ideas it to gather more feedback.
  • When you’re in a focus group, you don’t engage in the same way as you would at home. You’re conscious of the fact that you’re there to evaluate it, not experience it, so you’re judging from the start, against established criteria you believe to be right.
  • Instead of attempting to assess our own originality or seeking feedback from managers, we ought to turn more often to our colleagues. They lack risk-aversion of managers and focus groups, and are more open to seeing the potential in unusual possibilities. They have…enough distance to offer an honest appraisal.
  • To increase the odds of finding the best original ideas, we have to generate our own ideas immediately before [deciding how to] evaluate others
  • Whilst it can be appealing to assign a devil’s advocate, it’s much more powerful to unearth one
  • Company performance improves when CEOs actively gather advice from people who aren’t their friends and brought different insights to the table, which challenged them to fix mistakes and pursue innovations


On getting buy-in

  • It’s best to introduce a delay between introducing your idea and evaluating it.
  • Sharing your original idea is like tapping out the tune to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star ‘and hoping someone else guesses it. You hear the tune in your head, but all they hear is a bunch of disconnected dots…
  • Four ways to handle a dissatisfying situation:
    • Exit
    • Neglect
    • Persist
    • Voice
  • Negative relationships are unpleasant, but inconsistent, ambivalent relationships takes far more emotional energy
  • The most inspiring way to convey a vision is to outsource it to the people who are actually affected by it
  • Emphasising consequences for others can motivate adults more than focussing on the consequences to themselves. e.g. Doctors washrooms – ‘prevents patients’ was far more effective than ‘prevents you’


Definitely one to add to the Christmas wish-list, or to borrow from me if you’re not someone who is against frequent page-folding…

I really hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at johnjsills.com/subscribe to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me on twitter @johnJsills.


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