To Be an Original, Stop Trying to be First

Daniel Pink and Adam Grant in Washington DC: iPhone Daniel Forrester

This spring, I attended a talk with Wharton professor of psychology and New York Times writer Adam Grant about his new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. In an hour-long dialogue with fellow author Daniel Pink, Grant shared dozens of the examples of originality that he sculpted into his best-seller.

Listening required deep concentration and my full attention. Grant’s mind moves at a speed few can imagine, smashing concepts and ideas together like a blender. He answered Pink’s questions completely, and the density of his sentences and speed of his response left me somewhat breathless and longing to learn more. Reading Grant’s book allows a more measured pace of consuming and reflecting on his ideas. As an academic, Grant brings data to every story and has at least one study to support his assertions. Originals is certainly one of (if not the) best business books of the year. Many critics are comparing it to the work of Malcolm Gladwell, and Gladwell himself says Grant is “the tops.”

In Originals, Grant tells a new story about the concept of originality. Rather than the “first” to try an idea, Grant’s originals are intensely persistent, determined, and deeply strategic and creative thinkers across commercial, not-for-profit, and government entities. They believe in the potential contribution and impact of their ideas even when their supporters (and naysayers) see only possible failure or consequence. Through a dedication to bringing ideas to life and the shear scope of their creativity, these originals make space for concepts and creations to go further than conformists dream possible.

An early example Grant shares is that of now-retired Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) leader Carmen Medina. In a recent interview, Grant shared that Medina had been trying to get the agency to adopt more email in the 1990s to increase the amount of information people could share each day. People pushed back, claiming email was too dangerous and insecure, but Carmen didn’t relent. “I need to get people used to that idea,” she said, making an effort to bring the idea up in different contexts with different people, and even blogging herself. Eventually, she was able to launch the first internal Wikipedia for the CIA, which seemed to “prevent a few terrorist attacks.” Of Medina’s efforts, Grant said:

“It takes 10 to 20 exposures to a new idea before people really accept and appreciate it. If you get shot down on a Tuesday, come back on a Friday. It’s about mastering the art of repetition — — communicating the message to different people at different times in different ways, and trying to make it familiar.”

Shortly after I finished Originals, I had the pleasure of talking with Carmen Medina herself when the two of us served as panelists for a conference call sponsored by THRUUE’s business partners at the RANE Network. (You can read and download a full recap of the call here.)

Experts in corporate culture and regulatory compliance joined in a unique discussion about the powerful role culture plays in ensuring compliance and much more. During the call, Medina warned that hierarchy, group think, and careerism can restrict the free flow of information, leading to organizational silos and dysfunction. These limiting behaviors that Medina outlined not only stop employees from speaking up about problems but also eat innovation and creativity alive, preventing any opportunity companies have of unleashing their potential for originality.

Daniel P. Forrester

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CEO, THRUUE Inc.,reflective thinker, author, husband, and father. @DPforrester &