Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant • risk-taking • creativity • conformity

Originals How Non-Conformists Move the World book cover creativity


Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World is about creativity, risk-taking and conformity. The book is written by Adam Grant an American psychologist who is also a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania specialising in organisational psychology. In the book, he studies a relationship between entrepreneurship and risk-taking. Most people think that extremely successful entrepreneurs are risk-takers, however, the data provided in the book shows something completely opposite.  Best entrepreneurs are not necessarily more risk-taking than the rest of us. In fact, they may even be more risk-averse as most entrepreneurs hate gambling. What they really enjoy is the opportunity, trying something new. They’re typically driven not by passion for risk, but rather craving of passion. A lot of them are managing a variety of risk portfolios. They make risky investments in one realm which potentially could be offset with a safer bet in a different basket. In the end, when they have to go from one domain they will actually be more cautious in another to cover their position.

Originality and creativity are other great subjects of the book. Adam Grant tells that the biggest barrier to originality is not the ability to generate ideas but to select them properly. How can we avoid making bad bets when it comes to idea selection. The funny thing was his conclusion that we are all terrible at judging our own ideas. It’s really other people’s feedback that turns out to be important. Here the book provides a few great examples of ideas badly evaluated. The best example was Segway as a case of an entrepreneur being overconfident. In a short story, it’s an idea of a self-balancing vehicle. The idea was great and allured many successful people to invest in this product. On the other hand, apart from its uniqueness the company had great problems with monetising the idea and actually persuade customers that the product is worth buying. 

Here the book tells a lot about what is called the confirmation bias: when we come up with something unique, we overexaggerate its qualities expecting that it is going to shake the market and get success instantly. The big idea here is when you came up with something original, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be successful just because it seems unique to you. 

So First, reconsider the market needs and your audience’s preferences, not the product itself. Be your own judge and study where you fall short and of course correct from there before you put out anything in public. When we are excited about an idea we tend to make the mistake of assembling as many reasons as possible to support it and by the time we are completely biased and blinded.

Here I really loved the story of Rufus Griscom who has a great antidote to this. Once he started a company called Babble a parenting magazine. When he went to investors he said: “these are the top five reasons not to fund my startup company.” The same year received 3.3 million dollars to fund his expansion. Two years later went to Disney which was interested in buying the company and once again said “here are the five reasons why you should not buy it”. Disney ended up buying it for 40 million dollars. So the lesson to learn is to acknowledge the weaknesses of your idea and to be self-critical and honest with yourself. 

The next great lesson taken from the book was a problem with advisors and business partners we tend to choose. Naturally, we look for the friendliest, most agreeable person assuming that the person is ultimately going to be supportive. Nevertheless, it often turns out that that person doesn’t have your back because in hard times he is interested in being nice to you and he also wants to keep the peace with everyone else. So you should rather look for a more disagreeable person, somebody who tends to be a little bit more critical, sceptical and challenging. Such a person is going to be tougher to cooperate but, on the other hand, he will stand up for your ideas. 

The third great lesson was about strategic procrastination. When it comes to creativity and developing something, for example, a product or a presentation, putting things off can actually make things better. Of course, it depends on how you procrastinate. On one hand waiting a bit and delaying action can give you the time to evaluate your options and to minimise risk but, on the other hand, you might run out of time to finish your job. Anyway, in many cases, it is a very good strategy to leave an unfinished job and allow yourself to reconsider what you really want to do. 

In conclusion, Originals is very interesting reading. It might be very practical for people who sometimes need a cold shower and a kind of self-assessment. It is also a great book which tells fascinating stories of people who (and why?) made good and bad choices.

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

Final rating:

Interesting story
Complexity of ideas
Flourish language

Book details:

Size: 326 pages
Published: 2016


Other information and reviews of this book on Goodreads:

Other useful links:
Adam Grant on Wikipedia:
Other great book of Adam Grant “Give and Take”:
Grant’s website about the book:
Other great books about creativity: Creativity, Inc. by Ed CatmullThe Idea Factory by Jon Gertner

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