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  • Aakanksha Joshi

Notes to Self: Originals by Adam Grant



I recently finished reading Originals by Adam Grant and I must say, it is one the best books I've read in a while. While the book provides many interesting ideas, I captured the ones that resonated most with me, jotted them down along with some thoughts I had as I pondered upon those ideas.


1. Curiosity and Initiative

Grant starts the book by providing the example of Warby Parker and encourages us to always ask questions. The human nature is to look for comfort, and what's more comfortable than to just put all our faith in the status quo? "It's an emotional pain-killer: If the world is supposed to be this way, we don't need to be dissatisfied with it," Grant writes.

The book introduced me to the idea of Vuja de, the opposite of Déjà vu. Vuja de is a situation where we face something that we've seen or experienced in the past, but we look at it with a new perspective. And this new perspective helps us to get new insights into old problems.

To exemplify initiative, Grant gives a very simple example of how we install our browser of choice on a new computer system - how we all choose to not accept the "status quo" that we are provided, but rather pursue what we want and/or need on a daily basis. And if we can do this for things as simple as installing our browser of choice, we should try to project that sense of initiative and pro-activeness into the bigger things in our lives as well.


2. Idea Generation and Idea Selection

When we are generating ideas to solve a problem, the first few ideas we come up with will always be the most clichéd ones. The real originality only starts to crop up in our solutions when we've exhausted all of our most obvious options.

Once we have generated enough ideas, the challenge then becomes to select the best idea. To get to the best novel ideas, we should try to rely on other original creators in the domain and to expand our own knowledge beyond our domain of expertise - especially to try and foray into the artistic fields.

3. Originality + Familiarity: Effective Communication and Solutions

Make Ideas Verbose: Have you ever tried paying "Guess the Tune" with a friend? The tune seems so clear to you in your head but your friend has a hard time capturing it and you give up thinking they're just dumb. Well, they're not. Grant explains that our ideas are so familiar to us that we underestimate how many details the audience needs to be given before they can get a grasp of it.

The Handle: A really interesting example that he provided which stayed with me was that of Lion King. Initially people had a hard time understanding it, but when they were made to approach it through the lens of a narrative they were already familiar with, they instantly bought into the idea. The key was to give them a handle they could hold on to and then discuss the new idea with them.

Lead with Weaknesses: This one was rather interesting. He told the story of how someone was able to get people to invest in his plan by sharing the weaknesses of that plan with them first. This sounds very counterintuitive but Grant provides some good arguments in the favor of this: it helps tackle skepticism head on, it brings forth a sense of genuineness and trust into the discussion, and most importantly, it shifts the focus of the audience from finding chinks in the armor to coming together and finding solutions to the problems.

Start with Novelty: Grant described an experiment where people were asked to develop products that would help college students in interviews. When their starting cue was a binder, the ideas were pretty generic. But when their cue was roller blades, they started to come up with some really novel ideas which actually addressed students' problems in a creative and novel way.


4. Shifting Perspectives

Advocacy vs. Inquiry: “Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.”

Grant explains that the key is to give space for our dissenters to voice their opinions, and, wherever possible, provide solutions that can bring them on board. A culture that focuses too much on solutions instead of the problems themselves leads to the growth of an advocacy culture which reduces inquiry. Everyone then wants to become the first one to arrive at a solution rather than work as a team to first uncover all the underlying problems.

Consequence vs. Appropriateness: If we want to bring about a change in people’s behavior we need to shift their focus from “How does this affect me?” To “How does this affect everyone around me?” The first is a question of consequence, whereas the second one of appropriateness.

Surface Acting vs. Deep Acting: Trying to put yourself in the shoes of the other person is a better way to calm down than to just pretend to be calm.

The Action Quadrant: Grant explained that in any situation that we're not satisfied with, we have four options. 1) Exit - to leave the situation, 2) Voice - to raise your concerns, 3) Persistence - to bear with it, and 4) Neglect - to reduce effort. Grant explains that if we want to pursue originality then neglect isn’t an option and persistence appears to be an option but it's effect is ephemeral. In the long run, both neglect and persistence maintain the status quo, which keeps us dissatisfied. According to Grant, if we want to change the situation, exit and voice are the only viable alternatives.


5. Emotional Advantages

Anxiety: Turns out anxiety isn't all that bad and telling people to "calm down" isn't the best advice. Since people who are always anxious are generally the ones who are best prepared for the worse adversities, the real game-changer here is to really turn that anxiety into excitement before the curtain rises and it actually makes us perform better than if we had tried to calm down. And during the show, just let your natural anxiety prepare you for everything.

Urgency: Grant gave multiple examples to show how creating a sense of urgency about a situation that needs to be changed actually kicks people into action. That's the difference between saying "this needs to happen" and "this needs to happen now."

Risk: Grant describes an experiment where, even though the final outcome is similar, people's choices change depending on how the options are framed. People always want to minimize their losses, but if they see some gain, they want to hold on to it. This same analogy applies to people who may be frustrated with a situation but they find some sense of gain in the status quo of accepting things the way the are. To bring people out of their comfort zone, we need to make them aware that there are guaranteed losses if the situation doesn't change.

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