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Book Review: Originals

Wharton's star professor encourages teachers to nurture the oddballs and nonconformists in their classroom to keep the flame of originality alive.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   08-08-2016

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant, published by Viking Books.

It's not easy to land a book on the New York Times bestseller list but Wharton management professor Adam Grant has done it twice in a row. His first book, Give and Take, a study of the benefits of helping others earned applause from "The Gray Lady" and The Wall Street Journal. Now his second book, Originals, which is the #1 New York Times bestseller examines the habits and strategies of trailblazers and nonconformists who make a difference by thinking differently. Originals examines how people can champion new ideas — and how leaders can fight groupthink.

The new book offers a glimpse into Grant's unique mind: “As much as progress feels like oxygen and delay feels like death, you will discover that if you procrastinate a little bit, you actually become more creative.”

According to the author, originals are often procrastinators who think ahead but don’t rush the execution of their ideas; as evidence, Grant cites Martin Luther King, Jr., who planned his “I Have A Dream” speech for months, yet tweaked it right up until the moment he spoke, and largely ad-libbed its indelible climax. There’s an art to getting procrastination right, Grant says, with the key insight as follows: “Begin a task early, but delay completing it so you have time for incubation and space for divergent thinking.”

As a result of his research, Grant says his own habits have changed: he has become a strategic procrastinator! He now keeps an inspiration journal that he updates and re-reads weekly. Rather than risk a “false negative”— quickly dismissing an idea that might not be so bad after all — Grant returns to it with fresh eyes, and often finds new angles and perspectives.

Grant shares an eccentric list of ways that people can boost their own creativity from practicing magic to taking up other artistic hobbies. Hobbies “train us to think creatively and give us access to new ways of solving problems,” Grant writes in his book. He cited research showing that Nobel-laureate scientists are twice as likely to play a musical instrument as their peers, and seven times as likely to draw or paint. It's well-known that theoretical physicist Albert Einstein described the theory of relativity as a musical thought.

Originalsis practical and insightful for parents and teachers and should be required reading for anyone invested in nurturing creativity in the classroom. "Child prodigies, it turns out, rarely go on to change the world. When psychologists study history’s most eminent and influential people, they discover that many of them weren’t unusually gifted as children," writes Grant.

"Although child prodigies are often rich in both talent and ambition, what holds them back from moving the world forward is that they don’t learn to be original. As they perform in Carnegie Hall, win the science Olympics, and become chess champions, something tragic happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new," argues the book.

"The gifted learn to play magnificent Mozart melodies and beautiful Beethoven symphonies, but never compose their own original scores. They focus their energy on consuming existing scientific knowledge, not producing new insights," writes Grant.

On the other hand, the author finds that "the least favorite students" are most often the non-conformists. "Teachers tend to discriminate against highly creative students, labeling them as troublemakers. In response, many children quickly learn to get with the program, keeping their original ideas to themselves. In the language of author William Deresiewicz, they become the world’s most excellent sheep," points out the book. "All along the way, they strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers."

Originalsaddresses the challenge of championing originality in the classroom and work place, putting a premium on novel ideas and values that go against the grain. The book also delves into how we can originate new ideas, policies, and practices without risking it all. "To become original, you have to try something new, which means accepting some measure of risk. But the most successful originals are not the daredevils who leap before they look," says Grant.

"They are the ones who reluctantly tiptoe to the edge of the cliff, calculate the rate of descent, triple check their parachutes, and set up a safety net at the bottom just in case."

The book spotlights several originals including a woman at Apple who challenged Steve Jobs from three levels below and a billionaire financial wizard who fires employees for failing to criticize him. Grant has by some sort of alchemy written a delightfully simple and fun book that helps you recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced and build a coalition of allies. This breezy gem of a book provides an education an MBA would envy. It's filled with meaningful insights everyone in business can learn from and live by.

Grant has been Wharton’s top rated professor for four straight years and is counted as one of the world’s 25 most influential management thinkers.

Uttara Choudhury is Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site and writer for Forbes India. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.



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