3 Surprising Lessons Adam Grant Taught Me About Creative Genius

A review of Originals

Cal Axe
Cal Axe
Sep 25, 2020 · 6 min read

About Adam Grant

His Originals explores how innovators break the shackles of humanmade structures and create things truly beautiful. I was skeptical at first, another book about how Mozart, Elon Musk, and Tiger Woods have the genius gene and you… well, you so don’t. But that’s not our author’s style. Contrary to many academics, Grant is an eternal optimist. Through his experiences consulting for groups like Disney, UN, NFL, and Goldman Sachs, he has concluded that there is no reason why we can’t all be originals.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

— Margarete Meade

Should you buy this book?

Who’s it for?

The World Needs More Innovators

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The mission failed partly because the shuttles were so heavy that something was bound to go wrong eventually. But also because the senior staff at NASA was unable to respect dissenting opinions. The temperature was abnormally cold that morning, and there had been several complaints about the O-Rings’ sturdiness during colder temperatures.

Up to that point, NASA was humanities greatest gift. They put a man on the moon and hadn’t lost a soul since the ’60s — a miracle. That morning, they were cocky and did not consider original ideas.

Who Are Originals?

In that regard, originals are a two-sided coin. One side contains idea creation, the other, the courage to act.

Let’s first explore how to generate ideas.

How to Have an Original Idea

  1. Just because an idea looks good on paper doesn’t mean it’s practical.
  2. Just because you love it doesn’t mean your audience will.

What to do? Here are 3 surprising lessons from Adam Grant about idea creation.

1. Make a lot of crap

“…when it comes to ideas generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality. “Original Thinkers,” Stanford professor Robert Sutton notes, “will come up with many ideas that are strange mutations, dead ends and utter failures. The cost is worthwhile because they also generate a larger pool of ideas — especially novel ideas”

I found Mozart’s story particularly interesting. He tried to predict which of his pieces would be hits vs. duds — He almost always got it wrong. There’s usually a disconnect between the artist taste and what the audience craves.

2. Procrastinate

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Photo by Tony Tran on Unsplash

Did you know that two of the greatest speeches in American history were products of procrastination?

Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg address during the commute, and Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “I Have A Dream” speech the night before from a hotel room. In fact, the I have a dream part was improvised.

3. Ask a friend to look at your work

Grant suggests peer reviews are the way to go, but not just any peer review. The wrong reviewer can have devastating results. Bosses and managers are the worst; they stick too closely with their existing narratives. Seinfeld was rejected at first because “shows about nothing” had never been sold before. Focus groups aren’t sufficient either because they know they are judging something and tend to focus on the negatives rather than the positives.

It turns out there’s a happy medium. Fellow creators, or people in the same field but not in competition with you, are the best. They know what they’re looking at and will be objective with their critique.

Now for the other side of the coin. The courage to voice your ideas

Speaking For Your Ideas

“In one study across manufacturing, service, retail and nonprofit settings, the more frequently employees voiced ideas and concerns upward, the less likely they were to receive raises and promotions over a two- year period”

Grant breaks down the likely hood of success when voicing our ideas into a simple equation.

No Status + New Ideas = Fail

Status + New Ideas = Success

A harsh reality of any hierarchical structure, but there are options.

  1. Exit — Completely remove yourself from the situation or quit.
  2. Voice — Actively trying to improve the situation.
  3. Persistence — Smile through your teeth, grind it out.
  4. Neglect — Staying in your current status but reducing your effort, doing just enough work to get by.

The choices you make reflect your commitment to the cause. There’s a severe risk involved with quitting or voicing opinions, but if you believe and care enough to speak up, then the courageous will see it through to the end.

Groupthink

Adam defines groupthink as the “tendency to seek consensus instead of dissent.” It is the enemy of originality and happens because people feel pressure to conform instead of championing thought diversity. In NASA’s case, there was the pressure of a deadline and meeting expectations.

Groupthink will forever haunt our organizations, but like anything, recognizing a problem is the first step to a cure. Grant says we need to build organizations that welcome criticism and unearths people who have headstrong perspectives opposed to our own.

“Originality comes not from people who match the culture, but from those who enrich it.”

Final Thoughts

More importantly, our world needs innovators. Too many smart people are stuck doing things online, so worried about status and material possessions that we’ve turned inward. We care too much about what others think, and forget we have the mental capacity to make our marks on this world — to create something truly beautiful.

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Cal Axe

Written by

Cal Axe

Commercial real estate broker, blogger, and researcher. 27 years old. And here’s my newsletter https://yoprolibrary.substack.com/

Books Are Our Superpower

Book reviews, recommendations, summaries, rants — as long as it is related to books, your piece is welcome here. We aim to build a community of book lovers sharing about the books that moved them the most.

Cal Axe

Written by

Cal Axe

Commercial real estate broker, blogger, and researcher. 27 years old. And here’s my newsletter https://yoprolibrary.substack.com/

Books Are Our Superpower

Book reviews, recommendations, summaries, rants — as long as it is related to books, your piece is welcome here. We aim to build a community of book lovers sharing about the books that moved them the most.

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