Originals and Creativity — How to Champion Ideas

Creatives know a simple fact. Everything has been done under the sun, but hardly anyone noticed, so it can be done again. And by displaying it to the world once more, they are known as originals.

The content in this post is based on the following books:

1. Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant 
2. The Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins

Conformity

Child prodigies are the special few who are rich in both talent and ambition. However, there is a tendency which holds them back from moving the world forward. They do not learn to be originals. As they perform in Carnegie Hall, win science fairs and become chess champions, something tragic happens…

Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new. 
 — Adam Grant

By conforming to rules of establishments, rather than inventing one’s own, most people focus their energy on consuming existing knowledge, instead of producing new insights. As Joseph Schumpeter observed, originality is an act of creative destruction. Originals don’t necessarily have the deepest expertise, rather they seek out the broadest perspectives. By introducing an idea in a specific domain, they see the potential to improve it.

Originality

Creative people are prepared to be themselves. They make the most of their own experiences and the advantage of being themselves is that they are original. 
 — Rod Judkins

Every day, we encounter things we love and things that need to change. The thought of changing deep-seated beliefs can be daunting. We accept the status quo because creating changes seems unresonable. “Still, we dare to ask: Can one person make a difference? And, in our bravest moments: Could that be me?” — Adam Grant

The answer is a resounding yes. Everyone is searching for originality and it is within them. Any one of us has the power to champion ideas and when we do, we change the way we live.

Defaults

We are driven to question defaults when we experience vuja de, the opposite of déjà vu. Déjà vu occurs when we encounter something new, but it feels as if we’ve seen it before. Vuja de is the reverse — we face something familiar, but we see it with a fresh perspective that enables us to gain new insights into old problems.

Whatever I know how to do, I’ve already done. 
Therefore I must always do what I do not know how to do. 
 — Eduardo Chillida

A beginner has a fresh perspective. They don’t know how things ‘should’ be done and haven’t yet become entrenched in a particular method. Nothing is “wrong” for them, because they don’t know what is “right.” It’s important to avoid becoming an expert, specialist or authority, because they constantly refer to past experience. Whatever has worked in the past, they repeat, so knowledge becomes a straitjacket. They claim to have many years of experience, but what they actually have is one year’s experience repeated many times.

Risks

The assumption to be an original is that you need to take radical risks. This belief is embedded so deeply in our cultural psyche that we rarely stop to think about it. Even the term entrepreneur means bearer of risk. Adam Grant debunks the myth that originality requires extreme risk-taking. What great entrepreneurs do, is take the risk out of risk-taking. Every step of the way, they have checks and balances. Originality is not a fixed trait. It is a free choice.

The way to achieve the perfect work-life balance is to not do any work. If your work and life are separate to one another, something is wrong. Creatives are people who choose a lifestyle and then design what they have to do to make a living within that way of life. When they are working, they are doing what makes them truly themselves and would not want to be doing anything else. The creative person’s work and life are one, inseparable. There is no work-life balance because they are bound together.

Breaking Through

The most prolific people generate their most original output during periods in which they produce the most volume. It’s widely assumed that there is a trade-off between quantity and quality — if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it — but it’s not true. When it comes to idea generation, quantity paves the path to quality. Individual creators are better off over a lifetime of ideas. When we judge their greatness, we focus not on their averages, but on their peaks. — Adam Grant

To produce anything worthwhile, you have to be proactive and generate it. Most people sleep-walk through life, never asking themselves what they’re doing, why, or if it really matters to them. They absorb the values of their culture and accept them unquestioningly.

Creative thinking is about vision, awareness and expression. Skill is useful, but not essential. Ability is about your innate sensibility and understanding. Skill is about training and repetition. When someone emphasizes technique rather than concept, it is proof that they have run out of ideas. The genuinely creative are not seeking to display skill, but have a sincere interest in expressing ideas on their subject. Those with mechanical minds seek perfect technique by asking ‘How?’ Those with curiosity seek understanding by asking ‘Why?’

Originals are able to put social conditioning aside. They analyze what they are thinking, as well as how they are thinking. This enables them to see these accepted truths for what they are, either to go along with them or ignore them. By distancing yourself from your thoughts, you gain clarity and a deeper understanding. Be prepared to swim against the tide.

Creativity

The creative ideas you are searching for are swimming beneath the surface of your mind. You need to find ways to help them break the surface. The more you dive, the more you’ll discover. Creativity can be as simple as seizing on something that has been overlooked by the world and forcing it to take notice.

Nothing exists until it is observed. 
An artist is making something exist by observing it. 
 — William Burroughs

Drawing attention to something that amazes, excites or stimulates is often enough. Make the most of what you have experienced. Note down anything that astounds you. You never know when you might be able to use it. If it left an impression on you, it will leave an impression on others.

The role of the creative is to reveal deeper, more fundamental truths than mere facts. Creativity is not a switch that’s flicked on or off, it’s a way of seeing, engaging with and responding to the world around you. The work that creatives end up doing, is they relate everything back to their lifestyle.

There is always a better way, search for it.