I can’t believe it took me so long to find Adam Grant’s books such as Originals and other teachings. This is one psychologist I am currently stalking on social media and reading as much as I can from him. Originals explores different areas of non-conformists and it has a counterintuitive approach to different topics. He addresses some questions I had in mind on topics such as procrastination and groupthink. He even addressed some issues I had never thought about before. Grant highly focuses on creative work and if you’re creative, then this is for you. Still interested? Come with me as I summarize this book in the best way that I can.
You can also get a summary of the key lessons from the book on Blinkist.
Should you quit your job and become an entrepreneur?
One of the topics that caught my eye is how much individuals are always feeling the constant pressure to leave their job and head into entrepreneurship. The media that we consume currently has glorified entrepreneurship and anyone who is not an entrepreneur, or has no aspirations to be, is made to feel like a failure. We think of entrepreneurs as people that gave their ventures their all, quit their jobs, quit college, dived right in and became entrepreneurs.
How true is this? Adam Grant explains that while we think entrepreneurs are risk-takers, on the contrary, they are risk mitigators. We commonly read about the abstract stories of entrepreneurs, the hero story that everyone wants to hear about, but not their careful calculations and even risk avoidance. Bill Gates did not blindly quit school and became an entrepreneur, he took an allowed leave of absence intending to go back. Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, did not jump into entrepreneurship head fast. In fact, he stayed at his job for so long that Apple investors had to give him an ultimatum if they were to invest in the organization. Stephen King stayed at his job for 7 years after the publication of his first book before he became a full-time writer.
I love that Originals opens up these stories and uncovers the stereotype that entrepreneurs and take many risks and that you should feel less of yourself if you are not confident enough to take the risk. I have written about this topic several times since I believe that the pressure to conform to the entrepreneurship wave is unrealistic and not everyone was intended to be an entrepreneur. Don’t be an uninformed risk-taker. Take smart and calculated risks. Actually, mitigate risks as much as you can.
Produce more, the masterpiece is in numbers
“……the most important possible thing you do, is doing a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work” – Ira Glass
One of my favorite takeouts from this book is similar to a take out from one of my favorite books, Angela Duckworth’s Grit; the power of passion and persistence. The two authors insist that effort counts twice and that the more you are onto something, the better you get at it. This is further emphasized by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The story of success, and by Anders Ericsson in Peak: How all of us can achieve extraordinary things.
Adam Grant’s perspective is that the more you produce, the more you increase your chances of success. He goes ahead to analyze a few great people such as Beethoven and Picasso and how much work they produced compared to how many of their works we know of. Maya Angelou, for example, wrote 6 other biographies while she is majorly known for I know why the caged bird sings.
In Originals Grant, therefore insists that for you to make some of your best work, you have to produce more. You never know which one will be a masterpiece. Many of us creatives fall short of this because we are always seeking perfection. We are focusing on the one thing that we believe will be our best work. We spend so much time and effort into it. When we finally release it, and we don’t get as much fuss for it as we wanted, what happens? We go into depression. We think that we are not good enough and this hinders us from future creativity.
Should you leave or should you stay? Work and relationships
When do you know if you should leave or stay? How can you tell what needs persistence and what needs you to move on? There are different theories about this. Angela Duckworth wrote a whole book about persistence. Other times, you hear that if a situation is not favorable for you, walking away is the best thing. Knowing these two approaches, how do you know which situation calls for persistence and which one calls for you to walk away? Should you leave that miserable relationship or stay in it? Should you quit that job or should you stay in it? Should you drop that startup that can’t seem to be working out or should you persist?
Adam Grant’s approach to this is that you have four options. These are exit, voice, neglect or persist. If you chose to exit, you change the situation and it is detrimental to the organization (relationship or job). If you choose the neglect option, you maintain the situation quo, don’t do something about it and it doesn’t change the situation. If you choose persistence, it maintains the situation as it is but may be beneficial to your situation. If you choose voice, you change the situation and benefit the situation. In my opinion, this is a very good quadrant to analyze a situation before you make a decision. You can draft it down and ask yourself, what can I do? Will it change the situation or not? If I take this other option, will it improve the situation or not? I suggest you seek out this quadrant in the book and can use it in decision making.
Is procrastination always a bad thing?
You call it procrastination, I call it thinking”- Adam Grant
Oh, here is a good one. Procrastination! All we hear is that procrastination is never good. It is the enemy of progress. It is standing between you and your goals. Adam Grant has a different approach and view of procrastination. Hear him out. If you are a creative, and you have an idea in mind you start working on it and decide you can’t complete it yet. You keep it at the back of your mind. What happens? If I was thinking of writing this article for example, but don’t get to it straight away, I keep it at the back of my mind. As I am working on other activities or running errands, I am still thinking about this article. As a result, I develop ideas, different approaches to it and it simply marinates in my mind for a while. When I get down to writing, I’m surprised that I have written the whole article in one sitting. He proposes that creatives, and scientists, use procrastination as a form of incubation to mature their ideas and even develop solutions to problems.
“Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity, but it can be a resource for creativity”- Adam Grant.
Are firstborns more likely to succeed?
Another very interesting insight I found in this book is about how career choices can depend on the order of birth. I wrote this under the article are firstborns more likely to succeed? In Originals, Adam Grant argues that firstborns are more likely to take up careers such as accountants, engineers, lawyers, doctors and the like. This is because, for firstborns, parents are highly involved in the lives of children as well as their career choices. On the other hand, lastborns are more likely to take up creative careers such as comedians, artists, actors and actresses and the like. Why? Parents have relaxed from playing active roles in the roles of later-born children. As a result, they tend to figure out their own way. They are mostly parented by their siblings who are not much of conformists and encourage them to explore their own ways. (Little research has been carried out about the middle child. Poor we, no one thinks of us).
I found this so interesting and related to a great extent. My firstborn brother is an accountant. Our last born is a creative, my parents are not even sure what he does for a living. He stayed with me when he was in university and I encouraged him to learn skills outside his area. He learned to design and animation. I played the parenting part and gave him freedom and encouragement to be open to exploration and experimenting. He had taken up several jobs and left at 23. I, therefore, agree with this argument by Grant to a large extent.
Can pessimism be a good thing?
Here is another good lesson found in Originals; defensive pessimism. I am a realist. Sometimes my realism is so much it’s close to pessimism. I am not much of an optimist. I like to deal with facts. This may largely have to do with my ISTP personality. So when I read Adam Grant’s view on defensive pessimism, I was convinced he was talking about me. He discusses how sometimes imagining the worst-case scenario in a situation can be a good thing. It makes us prepared for the future since we have imagined all the different things that could go wrong and prepare for them. He says the best thing to handle fear is not to avoid it but make it your friend. Only through embracing fear can we prepare rigorously and handle situations better. This can even be an important lesson in developing resilience.
Work culture; is homogeneity always good?
One last lesson I borrowed from this book is about groupthink. All organizations are constantly seeking a way to create a cohesive culture under the belief that an even flowing organizational culture is the right one for business. Well, in Originals, Adam Grant thinks a cohesive culture sometimes is not a good thing. I’ve read this in Mindset by Carol Dweck who says sometimes CEOs surround themselves with people who agree with them. They have yes men all around them and while this leads to the smooth running of the organization, it can stand in the way of creativity and innovation and therefore business development. This was an important lesson in my leadership training since as I talk about creating a good culture, I should warn about groupthink and why leaders should be aware.
You can watch Adam Grant’s Ted talk on YouTube
My summary of Originals by Adam Grant does not do the book any justice. There are so many lessons that if I wrote all of them I would be covering the whole book. I highly recommend it. Whether you are a creative, a manager or leader, or even working on your own personal development, check it out. You could learn a lesson or two (or many!).