Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World – Adam Grant

Here are my comments on the book:

How do you become “original” and set new trends? Adam Grant, the youngest tenured and highest rated Wharton School of Business Professor, states that it all begins with curiosity. Having an insatiable drive to question and oppose the norm is what sets those apart from the rest. Those who don’t settle for the given answers and take action in search for better ones are the “Originals”. Some of these include people such as Bill Gates, first African American MLB player Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr., and American businessman and founder of the investment firm Bridgewater Associates, Ray Dalio. These are the people who didn’t conform to the rules of the game so they decided to create their own set of rules. Here are some of the points to the book:


1. You don’t necessarily have to be a big risk taker to become “original”. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Those who are “original” have learned to take highly calculated risks that work in their favour. Thinking of staring up your own entrepreneurial venture? Start and work on it on the side while working a job. There’s no need to hastily jump into a decision without putting much thought into it. I want to debunk the myth that originality requires extreme risk taking and persuade you that originals are actually far more ordinary than we realize. In every domain, from business and politics to science and art, the people who move the world forward with original ideas are rarely paragons of conviction and commitment. As they question traditions and challenge the status quo, they may appear bold and self-assured on the surface. But when you peel back the layers, the truth is that they, too, grapple with fear, ambivalence, and self-doubt. We view them as self-starters, but their efforts are often fuelled and sometimes forced by others. And asa much as they seem to crave risk, they really prefer to avoid it. In a fascinating study, management researchers Joseph Raffiee and Jie Feng asked a simple question: When people start a business, are they better off keeping or quitting their day jobs? From 1994 until 2008, they tracked a nationally representative group of over five thousand Americans in their twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties who became entrepreneurs. Whether these founders kept or left their day jobs wasn’t influenced by financial need; individuals with high family income or high salaries weren’t any more or less likely to quit and become full-time entrepreneurs. A survey showed that the ones who took the full plunge were risk takers with spades of confidence. The entrepreneurs who hedged their bets by starting their companies while still working were far more risk averse and unsure of themselves. If you think like most people, you’ll predict a clear advantage for the risk takers. Yet the study showed the exact opposite: Entrepreneurs who kept their day jobs had 33 percent lower odds of failure than those who quit.


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2. To those who are on the path of entrepreneurship, remember, to make big things happen takes time. Even for myself I fall prey to wondering why I haven’t reached as many people as I would like to have reached through this website. I need to constantly remind myself that those who have made it are the ones who were willing to stay longer when others were calling it quits. Don’t let the media fool you with the flashy lives of others and their successes as they rarely focus on the hard work and dedication behind what they show you. When the London Philharmonic Orchestra chose the 50 greatest pieces of classical music, the list included six pieces by Mozart, five by Beethoven, and three by Bach. To generate a handful of masterworks, Mozart composed more than 600 pieces before his death at thirty-five, Beethoven produced 650 in his lifetime, and Bach wrote over a thousand. In a study of over 15,000 classical music compositions, the more pieces a composer produced in a give five-year window, the greater the spike in the odds of a hit. Picasso’s oeuvre includes more than 1,800 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics, and 12,000 drawings, not to mention prints, rugs, and tapestries – only a fraction of which have garnered acclaim. In poetry, when we recite Maya Angelou’s classic poem ‘Still I Rise,’ we tend to forget that she wrote 165 others; we remember her moving memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and pay less attention to her other 6 autobiographies. In science, Einstein wrote papers on general and special relativity that transformed physics, but many of his 248 publications had minimal impact. If you want to be original, ‘the most important possible thing you could do,’ says Ira Glass, the producer of This American Life and the podcast Serial, ‘is to do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work.’


3. Travel more. The more you travel, the more you’ll expose yourself to new senses and sights never seen before. These experiences can be a great addition to your knowledge base that you can later withdraw from. If possible, rather than traveling for leisure, try to spend some time working in a country that vastly differs from that of yours. The researchers studied the creative directors’ biographies, tracking the international experiences of industry icons like Giorgio Armani, Donna Karan, Karl Lagerfeld, Donatella Versace, and Vera Wang. The most creative fashion collections came from houses where directors had the greatest experience abroad, but there were three twists. First, time living abroad didn’t matter: it was time working abroad, being actively engaged in design in foreign country, that predicted whether their new collections were hits. The most original collections came from directors who had worked in two or three different countries. Second, the more the foreign culture differed from that of their native land, the more that experience contributed to the directors’ creativity. An American gained little from working in Canada, compared to the originality dividends of a project in Korea or Japan. But working in multiple countries with different cultures wasn’t enough. The third and most important factor was depth – the amount of time spent working abroad. A short stint did little good, because directors weren’t there long enough to internalize the new ideas from the foreign culture and synthesize them with their old perspectives. The highest originality occurred when directors had spent thirty-five years working abroad.


4. To be original, you don’t necessarily have to be the first one to do it. In fact, you increase your odds of success by not being the first one to do it especially in a new and unknown market. You can still be original from building upon what others have done, just as long as you’ve made it better than your competitor’s every way possible. I don’t mean to imply that it’s never wise to be first. If we all wait for others to act, nothing original will ever be created. Someone has to be the pioneer, and sometimes that will pay off. First-mover advantages tend to prevail when patented technology is involved, or when there are strong network effects (the product or service becomes more valuable when there are a greater number of users, as with telephones or social media). But in the majority of circumstances, your odds of success aren’t higher if you go first. And when the market is uncertain, unknown, or underdeveloped, being a pioneer has pronounced disadvantages. The key lesson here is that if you have an original idea, it’s a mistake to rush with he sole purpose of beating your competitors to the finish line. Just as procrastinating can give us flexibility on a task, delaying market entry can open us up to learning and adaptability, reducing the risks associated with originality.


My rating:
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Check out the book here:

Amazon US
Amazon Canada
Amazon UK


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By Ryan Lee


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