Book Notes: Originals

How Non-Conformists Move the World

These notes represent passages from Originals by Adam Grant that held meaning and/or were worthy of follow-up (and possibly expanded research) to me personally.

Some passages may speak to you, others will not.

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Finished reading Originals, July 2018.

The Beginning

Page 1

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” ~ quote from George Bernard Shaw

Page 13

“On matters of style, swim with the current. On matters of principle, stand like a rock.” ~ Quote from Thomas Jefferson

“The pressure to achieve leads us to do the opposite.”

NOTE — Popular opinion, fitting in, is rarely the path the achieving satisfaction in work. Stop caring about what people are going to think and do the work you want to do.

Page 24

“Originality is not a fixed trait. It is a free choice. (Abraham) Lincoln wasn’t born with an original personality. Taking on controversy wasn’t programmed into his DNA; it was an act of conscious will. As the great thinker W.E.B. DuBois wrote, ‘He was one of you and yet he become Abraham Lincoln.”

NOTE — You are the work you put in. You become the work you put in. Your legacy is the work you put in. No excuses, no exceptions. Make the decision and do the work.

Page 36

“In every field, even the most eminent creators typically prodcue a large quantity of work that’s technically sound bu considered unremarkable by experts and audience.”

NOTE — We don’t get to pick the winners.

Page 37

“It’s widely assumed that there’s a trade off between quantity and quality — if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it — but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.”

Page 38

“…our first ideas are often the most conventional — the closest to the default that already exists. It’s only after we’ve ruled out the obvious that we have the greatest freedom to consider the more remote possibilities.”

Page 39

“Conviction in our ideas is dangerous not only because it leaves us vulnerable to false positives, but also because it stops us from generation the requisite variety to reach our creative potential.”

Page 52

“Products don’t create value. Customers do.” ~ quote by Bill Sahlman

Page 54

“The more successful people have been in the past, the worst they perform when they enter a new environment. They become overconfident, and they’re less likely to seek critical feedback even though the context is radically different.”

NOTE — Practice humility as lifelong learner. Humility allows you to step back address unique situations for what they are and not what we assume them to be.

Page 56

“It’s never the idea; it’s always the execution.”

Page 61

“Individual creators have far better odds over a lifetime of ideas. When we judge their greatness, we focus not on their averages, but on their peaks.”

NOTE — Do the damn work. You don’t get to pick the winners.

Page 67

“Idiosyncrasy Credits — the latitude to deviate from the group’s expectations. Idiosyncrasy credits accrue through respect, not rank: they’re based on contributions.” ~ concept coined by Edwin Hollander

NOTE — It feels like Idiosyncrasy Credits may be vital to the “Intrapreneur” working to build change from within an organization.

Page 69–73

The advantage of leading with weakness.

  • The first advantage is that leading with weaknesses disarms the audience.
  • The second benefit of leading with the limitations of an idea: it makes you look smart.
  • The third advantage of being up front about the downsides of your ideas is that it makes you more trustworthy.
  • A forth advantage of this approach is that it leaves audiences with a more favorable assessment of the idea itself, due to a bias in how we process information.

Leading with weaknesses only works if the product or idea actually has merit and value.

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Page 77

“The Mere Exposure Effect — the more often we encounter something, the more we like it.” ~ research done by psychologist, Robert Zajonc.

NOTE — Quantity matters. We must get the message in front of people over an over again which can only be achieved through the intentional and tactical delivery of consistent value.

Page 78

“An unfamiliar idea requires more effort to understand. The more we see, hear, and touch it, the more comfortable we become with it, and the less threatening it is.”

Page 93

“…as I’ve studied originals, I’ve learned that the advantages of acting quickly and being first are often outweighed by the disadvantage.”

Page 94

“You don’t have to be first to be an original , and the most successful originals don’t always arrive on schedule. They are fashionably late to the party.”

Page 95

“Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity, but it can be a resource for creativity.”

NOTE — How do we harness our natural tendency to procrastinate on tough or important projects? Does procrastination ever play a role in peak performance?

Page 96

“If creative procrastination, selectively applied, prevented Leonardo (da Vinci) from finishing a few commission-of minor importance when one is struggling with the inner workings of the cosmos-then only someone who is a complete captive of the modern cult of productive mediocrity could fault him for it.” ~ quote from William Pannapacker.

NOTE — Look deeper into the “modern cult of productive mediocrity.” This idea feels deeper and systemic.
NOTE — What is the Latin word for “right time?” ← “Kairos.”

Page 97

In the footnotes — “Procrastination may be particularly conducive to creativity when it leaves us solving problems at moments where we’re unfocused.” From study done by Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks.

Page 100

“Along with providing time to generate novel ideas, procrastination has another benefit: it keeps us open to improvisation. When we plan well in advance, we often stick to the structure we’ve created, closing the door to creative possibilities that might spring into our fields of vision.”

Page 103–104

“In a classic study, marketing researchers Peter Golder and Gerard Tellis… found a staggering difference in failure rates: 47 percent for pioneers, compared with just 8 percent for settlers. Pioneers were about six times more likely to fail than settlers.”

NOTE — Learn from the mistakes of first movers and build off the relative awareness they’ve created for an idea or concept.

Page 105

“Being original doesn’t require being first. It just means being different and better.”

NOTE —Summation quote of the book.

Page 106

“Moving first is a tactic, not a goal. Being the first mover doesn’t do you any good if someone else comes along and unseats you.” ~ quote by Peter Thiel from his book Zero to One.

Page 109–110

“Experimental innovators solve problems through trial and error, learning and evolving as they go along. They are at work on a particular problem, but they don’t have a specific solution in mind at the outset. Instead of planning in advance, they figure it out as they go.”

“How can I know what I think until I see what I say?” ~ paraphrase from E.M. Foster

Page 112

“To sustain our originality as we age and accumulate experitise, our best bet is to adopt an experimental approach.”

NOTE — Don’t stagnate. Don’t rest. Be humble. Become a life learner. Don’t worry about what they say, they’ll never be you.

Page 113

“Put old things in new combinations and new things in old combinations.” ~ quote from Karl Weick

Page 141

“Originality is what everybody wants, but there’s a sweet spot. If it’s not original enough, it’s boring or trite. If it’s too original, it may be hard for the audience to understand. The goal is to push the envelope, not tear the envelope.” ~ quote from Rob Minkoff

Page 154

“If you’re like (Jackie) Robinson, and you consistently challenge the status quo, you operate differently, using instead a logic of appropriateness: What does a person like me do in a situation like this? Rather than looking outward in an attempt to predict the outcome, you turn inward to your identity. You base the decision on who you are — or who you want to be.”

Page 176

“Groupthink is the enemy of originality; people feel pressured to conform to the dominant, default views instead of championing diversity of thought.”

NOTE — How can groups avoid Groupthink? You’ve lived this, you must prevent it from hindering your work again.

Page 183

“Once a market becomes dynamic, big companies with strong cultures are too insular: They have a harder time recognizing the need for change, and they’re more likely to resist the insights of the those who think differently.”

Page 185

“Dissenting opinions are useful even if they are wrong.”

NOTE — As leaders we must cultivate dissenting opinions, not oppress them. But how do we support dissenting opinions while maintaining constructive, positive work environment?

Page 191

“The goal is to create an idea meritocracy, where the best ideas win. To get the best ideas on the table in the first place, you need radical transparency.”

Page 199

“Although everyone’s opinions are welcome, they’re not all valued equally. Bridgewater is not a democracy. Voting privileges the majority, when the minority might have a better opinion. ‘Democratic decision making-one person, one vote-is dumb,’ Ray Dalio explains, ‘because not everybody has the same believability.”

NOTE — Understand “Believability” better. How do we build believability?

Page 201

“”Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.” ~ quote from Karl Weick

Page 208–209

“Shapers’ are independent thinkers: curious, non-conforming, and rebellious. They practice brutal, nonhierarchical honesty. And they act in the face of risk, because their fear of not succeeding exceeds their fear of failing.”

“The greatest Shapers don’t stop at introducing originality into the world. They create cultures that unleash originality in others.”

Page 213

“Defensive pessimism is a strategy used in specific situations to manage anxiety, fear and worry,’ says psychologist Julie Norem. When self-doubts creep in, defensive pessimists don’t allow themselves to be crippled by fear. They deliberately imagine a disaster scenario to intensify their anxiety and convert it into motivation.”

Page 216

“Labeling the emotion as anxiety reduced accuracy to 53 percent. Instead of helping them accept fear, it reinforced that they were afraid. Calling it excitement was enough to spike accuracy to 80 percent.”

Page 217

“…we can shift the go system into higher gear by embracing our fear. Since we’ve set our minds to press forward, envisioning the worst-case scenario enables us to harness anxiety as a source of motivation to prepare and succeed.”

Page 234

“The greatest communicators of all time, start by establishing what is: here’s the status quo. Then, they compare that to what could be, making the gap as big as possible.” ~ quote by Nancy Duarte.

NOTE — You need to go over your keynotes story by story to make sure you’re establishing the status quo.

Page 242

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it difficult to plan the day.” ~ quote by E.B. White.

NOTE — I share this struggle.

The End


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Thank you,

Ryan Hanley

P.S. Here is another good set of Book Notes…