The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

Adam Grant Originals

After years of studying the dynamics of success and productivity in the workplace, Adam Grant discovered a powerful and often overlooked motivator —helping others. Grant's message resonates deeply at Conversation Agent. 

In Originals: How Non Conformists Rule the World Adam Grant set out to understand a group of people who take initiative, bring creative ideas to life, and thus become successful. He called them originals: 

Originals are nonconformists, people who not only have new ideas but take action to champion them. They are people who stand out and speak up. Originals drive creativity and change in the world. They're the people you want to bet on. And they look nothing like I expected. I want to show you today three things I've learned about recognizing originals and becoming a little bit more like them.

Originals, says Grant, looked nothing like he had imagined.

Originals sweet spot

For example, being procrastinators vs. precrastinators —the people who jump on projects to try to get in front of them ahead of time, many of us belong to this category— is an advantage. Why? Because it gives our creative juices the opportunity to catch up with our ideas and inform them better through the process of incubation.

What are the three characteristics originals have in common?

  1. Quick to start, slow to finishwe don't have to be first; we just have to be different and better
  2. Full of doubt and fear —what sets them apart from the rest of us is that they're even more afraid of failing to try
  3. Have lots of bad ideas —many people fail to have originality because they generate a few ideas and then obsess about refining them to perfection

What Grant found in his exploration of what sets originals apart, he found that their starting point is curiosity, wondering why things are the way they are. Which engages them in figuring out if there is a better option. In other words, they reject the status quo.

Originals is filled with counter intuitive research and stories, including how enemies make better allies than frenemies.

How do creative people come up with great ideas? The answers may surprise you.


Adan Grant's book recommendations:

  • The Dream: Martin Luther King, Jr., & the Speech that Inspired a Nation by Drew Hansen —opening with an enthralling account of the August day in 1963 that saw 250,000 Americans converge at the March on Washington, The Dream delves into the fascinating and little-known history of King's speech. Hansen explores King's composition strategies and techniques, and proceeds to a brilliant analysis of the “I Have a Dream” speech itself, examining it on various levels: as a political treatise, a work of poetry, and as a masterfully delivered and improvised sermon bursting with biblical language and imagery.
  • Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg —the book misses a growing category, and that is entrepreneurs; women who have decided to take control of their own fate, instead of joining in the Sisyphean task of changing power dynamics from the inside out that Sandberg advocates. As one reviewer put it better than I could have, the book is written squarely for women (like her) who possess the admirable patience and perseverance to log decades working for men like Mark Zuckerberg, and, perplexingly, not a call to arms for women to become the next Mark Zuckerberg.

Our view at Conversation Agent is that being originals is about championing big ideas, grounding our executions in creative thinking, and doing the work to become systematically smarter on how we go about leading productive and purposeful lives.