The primary intention of Adam Grant’s Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, is to inspire creativity and motivate us to question the status quo. Grant does this through exhaustive use of empirical research from organizational psychology, social psychology, and many other disciplines. As a result, his work stands out amid others that attempt to accomplish the same goals because Originals is backed up by verifiable research as opposed to anecdote. Upon completion of this book, you will understand how to stimulate creativity and question authority the right way.
Generally, I found that Originals provides especially useful insights for improving your work performance, but I also found applicability to out-of-work pursuits. In regards to the former, this effect is unsurprising after considering that organizational psychology Grant’s chosen field of academia, is the study of workplace behavior. But concerning the latter point, I found a ton of useful tidbits that are easily adaptable to a bigger picture—cultivating a satisfying life where creativity flourishes. Here are five of my favorite tips from Originals.
Don’t Let Your Expertise and Knowledge In Your Field Hold You Back
“Advocating for new systems often requires demolishing old ways of doing things, and we hold back for fear of rocking the boat.”
Early on in the book, Grant discusses a theory that stands as an obstacle to the preservation of the two goals mentioned above—stimulating creativity and questioning the status quo. This theory, called achievement motivation, holds that once people pass an intermediate level in skill, they actually become less creative and fail to question the defaults dictating their current state. This happens because the more we achieve, the more we tend to value this continued achievement, and, consequently, fear failure—lest it diminishes our past and future achievement. So in order to avoid failure and keep achieving at the same level we have in the past, we shy away from making waves in our field. While this might allow us to continue down a sustained path of achievement, it ultimately stunts our innovation and lessens our creative faculties. So underdeveloped, we will never realize our full potential.
Now, Grant doesn’t make the point that a certain degree of skepticism and risk-averseness is never beneficial, only that we should dissolve any fear of failure that hinders our creative development. Grant’s prescription for dissolution is, unsurprisingly, to deliberately make waves through a process called creative destruction, a concept formulated by economist Joseph Schumpeter. It advises that we must do something completely unordinary in whatever project we’re working on. Whether we try and bring in a new concept or idea that seems inapposite or gain perspective from someone or something that is unconventional, the form is less important than the destructive process that rattles our cage and awakens us from dormancy.
To summarize, creative destruction is the process that prevents us from becoming complacent, which results from continued achievement. While continuing down this path is, admittedly, tantalizing because it has redounded in success before, we must remember that it ultimately leads to stagnated creativity—an end that should be avoided at all costs. Side-step this result by making a concerned effort to speak up, stand out, and create destructively.
You Can Customize a Fulfilling, Enjoyable Job Using Your Own Faculties
You don’t need to be an attorney to know that there is a lot of griping in the legal profession. Understandably so: the hours hour long, the stress high, and clients demanding. But notwithstanding these elements, there is a large degree of autonomy and ability to customize what you do, how you do it, and when you do it. This is critical for developing an enjoyable workplace experience. Grant expresses this point by stating that individuals who are able to customize their tasks and relationships to their interests, skills, and values, “show a spike in happiness and performance. “
Fortunately for workers who have a modicum of autonomy, effectuating this spike is as simple as acknowledging that your job is malleable and that you harness a large degree of control. Indeed, one study concluded that employees who merely looked at their job as malleable were 70 percent more likely to obtain a promotion or a transition to a prestigious role.
The reason this simple acknowledgement can effect such a substantial change in how we feel about our jobs can be explained by the theory of harmonious passion. This theory states that passion about work originates from performing work that reflects qualities you like about yourself—i.e., qualities that support your own values. This is in contrast to obsessive passion, the notion that your work conflicts with other activities and values in your life. The first form of passion leads to high-self esteem, creativity, concentration; while the second results in burn-out.
Accordingly, if you’re a knowledge worker, especially a lawyer, you can choose to look at your job as if it consists of flexible building blocks and not static sculptures, and try to harmonize these blocks with other activities in your life. Realizing that we have the power to change those blocks which we don’t like is empowering and has a profound effect on our psychological understanding of work. Hence, make a list of which values you find important—e.g., collaborating with others on a case, honing your writing, providing vigorous advocacy, serving clients in a vulnerable position—and see how you can conform your daily tasks in a way that align with these values. Happiness and performance will ensue and ideally you will find yourself in a harmoniously passionate relationship with your work.
Cultivate Broad and Deep Experience To Effectuate Enhanced Creativity
A couple studies support the principle that creativity flourishes when we expand our areas of study. That is, when we have both a depth of knowledge in our given field and a breadth of knowledge of things in general, we become more creative. Further, exclusively focusing on depth of knowledge has its own pernicious effect in that “the more experience people gain, the more entrenched they become in a particular way of viewing the world,” which closes us off to creative possibilities.
These ideas have empirical support. In examining Nobel Prize winners, researchers found that individuals who were involved in performing arts, creative writing, crafts, arts, and music, were much more likely to win the noble prize. Similar results were found when studying American entrepreneurs and inventors. The researchers concluded that artistic pursuits helped these entrepreneurs, inventors, and noble prize winners look at their problems in new, innovative ways.
Thus, broaden your knowledge to include depth and breadth, and the most beneficial way to do this is to incorporate artistic activities—it will do wonders for your creativity.
When Writing, Be An Experimental Innovator, Not a Conceptual One
Grant draws a distinction between two different types of innovators: conceptual and experimental. Conceptual innovators formulate a big idea and set out to execute it. Experimental innovators implement a trial and error process, learning and developing as they move along.
Experimental innovation, according to Grant, can manifest a sustainable source of originality if implemented correctly, and I found that this mode of innovation is directly applicable to legal writing. This was made apparent by Grant’s own example of the famous poet Robert Frost—a paragon of experimental innovation.
I found Frost’s methods useful for developing your legal writing for a variety of reasons, some . First, he stressed the importance of having an underlying goal when beginning a writing endeavor. His was to create poems that had the richness of novels. In legal writing, your underlying goal might be to have your fact sections read like interesting stories, or your arguments flow in tight, formal logical structure.
To accomplish his goal, Frost plucked material from actual conversations: “I would never use a word or combinations of words that I hadn’t heard used in running speech.” Each poem, Grant says, was an experiment in meshing different elements. I found this meshing-idea illuminating.
After reading many legal and non-legal writings books, I’ve found that there are an innumerable tips and strategies that you can implement in writing a brief. Incorporating them all or having a list of them by your side when writing might do little more then inundate you with information. Instead, select only a few and, in Frostian fashion, mesh the carefully selected elements into your brief. Observe which are the most effective and fit well with your advocacy style.
Moreover, mesh in elements from other forms of literature you’ve observed. This might include a literary technique or styling from poetry, philosophy, plays, or other unconventional literary materials you wouldn’t naturally adopt when legal writing. It is worth noting, however, that whenever clarity is obscured, no matter how fancy and alluring the literary technique might be, it should be avoided—cogent writing is the linchpin of effective legal writing. Still, I found the Frostian notion of meshing to be something worth playing around with, and at the very least a tool for stimulating creativity.
I also noticed how Frost’s prescription concerning “running speech” is also directly applicable to legal writing. Lawyers are much better off throwing out the jargon, legalese, and Latin that most people haven’t “heard used in running speech,” and Garner and Scalia recommend a similar litmus test: “[A]void words that would cause people to look at you funny if you used them at a party.” Thus, abstain from out-of-place phrases and terms and use only what is common in English expression.
Frost also had another directly relevant saying: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” This, too, is helpful for legal writing, as your brief should flow in a logical structure that tells the reader the exact points and arguments you want to impress on your reader, and then proceed to do so without surprise—a brief should not read like a mystery novel. But the experimental innovation point remains the more principal one here: Run experiments when you write, “putting old things in new combinations and new things in old combinations,” as management scholar Karl Weick says, and watch your creativity flourish.
Welcome Dissenters and Devil’s Advocates
“Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong”—Karl Weick
In the penultimate chapter of Originals, Grant makes the case for why we should all welcome a dissenting opinion when formulating ideas, thoughts, and actions. After giving the enlightening background on how the term Devil’s Advocate came into existence, or the advocatus Dei as it was previously known, Grant highlights the value of engaging with a dissenter. A dissenter’s utility arises because of what psychologist call confirmation bias: the theory that when we have a preference, our mind seeks out information to support that preference, while overlooking information that questions it. This disallows the ability to refine our ideas because we are inadvertently shutting them out in order to confirm our original preference.
However, strategically implementing a devil’s advocate, who is authentic in their dissent, helps us overcome this bias. In engaging with these dissenters we start to doubt ourselves and become receptive to refining our ideas. What results is stimulated thought, both clarified and emboldened.
Note, authentic dissent is the key here. In one study, groups with an authentic dissenter generated 48 percent more solutions to problems than those with a devil’s advocate that was merely assigned, and “their solutions tended to be higher in quality.” This occurs because assigned dissenters fail to argue forcefully or consistently enough for the minority viewpoint, which is necessary in order for the majority to take them seriously.
Accordingly, encourage dissent when you are arguing a theory of the case, a substantive legal argument, or a strategical discovery maneuver, and watch the number of your solutions and their quality improve.
There you have it, five broad ideas from Adam Grant’s Originals. While some of the ideas were specifically applied to the legal realm, they are applicable to knowledge workers more generally. Pick the book up for yourself to learn more about becoming an Original and the field of organizational psychology. This was a terrific book that will likely shift the way you view work and creativity.