What Influences Coming Up With An Original Idea?

In this thoughtful work Grant takes a closer look at what it means to be “Original” from multiple perspectives. He integrates everything from in-depth psychology studies on child-rearing to the research examining the tacit rules influencing the most successful company cultures. It is a refreshing read that makes you re-think what is actually common sense when it comes to making an impact in our world. In the end, it is clear that the individual change-maker could be you. Here are the main take-away points from www.adamgrant.net.

Grant, Adam. "Adam Grant." Adam Grant. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Sept. 2016.

“Originals” by Adam Grant

Summary: Actions for Impact

If you’re seeking to unleash originality, here are some practical actions that you can take. The first steps are for individuals to generate, recognize, voice, and champion new ideas. The next set is for leaders to stimulate novel ideas and build cultures that welcome dissent. The final recommendations are for parents and teachers to help children become comfortable taking a creative or moral stand against the status quo. To gauge your knowledge of originality with a free assessment, visit www.adamgrant.net.

Individual Actions:

  • Generating and Recognizing Original Ideas
    1. Question the default. Instead of taking the status quo for granted, ask why it exists in the first place. When you remember that rules and systems were created by people, it becomes clear that they’re not set in stone—and you begin to consider how they can be improved.
    2. Triple the number of ideas you generate. Just as great baseball players only average a hit for every three at bats, every innovator swings and misses. The best way to boost your originality is to produce more ideas.
    3. Immerse yourself in a new domain. Originality increases when you broaden your frame of reference. One approach is to learn a new craft, like the Nobel Prize–winning scientists who expanded their creative repertoires by taking up painting, piano, dance, or poetry. Another strategy is to try a job rotation: get trained to do a position that requires a new base of knowledge and skills. A third option is to learn about a different culture, like the fashion designers who became more innovative when they lived in foreign countries that were very different from their own. You don’t need to go abroad to diversify your experience; you can immerse yourself in the culture and customs of a new environment simply by reading about it.
    4. Procrastinate strategically. When you’re generating new ideas, deliberately stop when your progress is incomplete. By taking a break in the middle of your brainstorming or writing process, you’re more likely to engage in divergent thinking and give ideas time to incubate.
    5. Seek more feedback from peers. It’s hard to judge your own ideas, because you tend to be too enthusiastic, and you can’t trust your gut if you’re not an expert in the domain. It’s also tough to rely on managers, who are typically too critical when they evaluate ideas. To get the most accurate reviews, run your pitches by peers—they’re poised to spot the potential and the possibilities.
  • Voicing and Championing Original Ideas
  1. Balance your risk portfolio. When you’re going to take a risk in one domain, offset it by being unusually cautious in another realm of your life. Like the entrepreneurs who kept their day jobs while testing their ideas, or Carmen Medina taking a job to protect against security leaks when she was pushing the CIA to embrace the internet, this can help you avoid unnecessary gambles.
  2. Highlight the reasons not to support your idea. Remember Rufus Griscom, the entrepreneur in chapter 3 who told investors why they shouldn’t invest in his company? You can do this, too. Start by describing the three biggest weaknesses of your idea and then ask them to list several more reasons not to support it. Assuming that the idea has some merit, when people have to work hard to generate their own objections, they will be more aware of its virtues.
  3. Make your ideas more familiar. Repeat yourself—it makes people more comfortable with an unconventional idea. Reactions typically become more positive after ten to twenty exposures to an idea, particularly if they’re short, spaced apart by a few days, and mixed in with other ideas. You can also make your original concept more appealing by connecting it with other ideas that are already understood by the audience—like when the Lion King script was reframed as Hamlet with lions.
  4. Speak to a different audience. Instead of seeking out friendly people who share your values, try approaching disagreeable people who share your methods. In the U.S. Navy, a young aviator named Ben Kohlmann created a highly effective rapid-innovation cell by assembling a band of junior officers who had disciplinary actions brought against them for challenging authority. They had a history of principled dissent, and although they held different objectives, their habits of loyal opposition meshed well. Your best allies are the people who have a track record of being tough and solving problems with approaches similar to yours.
  5. Be a tempered radical. If your idea is extreme, couch it in a more conventional goal. That way, instead of changing people’s minds, you can appeal to values or beliefs that they already hold. You can use a Trojan horse, as Meredith Perry did when she masked her vision for wireless power behind a request to design a transducer. You can also position your proposal as a means to an end that matters to others, like Frances Willard reframing the right to vote as a way for conservative women to protect their homes from alcohol abuse. And if you’re already known as too extreme, you can shift from leader to lightning rod, allowing more moderate people to take the reins.
  • Managing Emotions
  1. Motivate yourself differently when you’re committed vs. uncertain. When you’re determined to act, focus on the progress left to go—you’ll be energized to close the gap. When your conviction falters, think of the progress you’ve already made. Having come this far, how could you give up now?
  2. Don’t try to calm down. If you’re nervous, it’s hard to relax. It’s easier to turn anxiety into intense positive emotions like interest and enthusiasm. Think about the reasons you’re eager to challenge the status quo, and the positive outcomes that might result.
  3. Focus on the victim, not the perpetrator. In the face of injustice, thinking about the perpetrator fuels anger and aggression. Shifting your attention to the victim makes you more empathetic, increasing the chances that you’ll channel your anger in a constructive direction. Instead of trying to punish the people who caused harm, you’ll be more likely to help the people who were harmed.
  4. Realize you’re not alone . Even having a single ally is enough to dramatically increase your will to act. Find one person who believes in your vision and begin tackling the problem together.
  5. Remember that if you don’t take initiative, the status quo will persist. Consider the four responses to dissatisfaction: exit, voice, persistence, and neglect. Only exit and voice improve your circumstances. Speaking up may be the best route if you have some control over the situation; if not, it may be time to explore options for expanding your influence or leaving.

Leader Actions:

Sparking Original Ideas

  1. Run an innovation tournament. Welcoming suggestions on any topic at any time doesn’t capture the attention of busy people. Innovation tournaments are highly efficient for collecting a large number of novel ideas and identifying the best ones. Instead of a suggestion box, send a focused call for ideas to solve a particular problem or meet an untapped need. Give employees three weeks to develop proposals, and then have them evaluate one another’s ideas, advancing the most original submissions to the next round. The winners receive a budget, a team, and the relevant mentoring and sponsorship to make their ideas a reality.
  2. Picture yourself as the enemy. People often fail to generate new ideas due to a lack of urgency. You can create urgency by implementing the “kill the company” exercise from Lisa Bodell, CEO of futurethink. Gather a group together and invite them to spend an hour brainstorming about how to put the organization out of business—or decimate its most popular product, service, or technology. Then, hold a discussion about the most serious threats and how to convert them into opportunities to transition from defense to offense.
  3. Invite employees from different functions and levels to pitch ideas. At DreamWorks Animation, even accountants and lawyers are encouraged and trained to present movie ideas. This kind of creative engagement can add skill variety to work, making it more interesting for employees while increasing the organization’s access to new ideas. And involving employees in pitching has another benefit: When they participate in generating ideas, they adopt a creative mindset that leaves them less prone to false negatives, making them better judges of their colleagues’ ideas.
  4. Hold an opposite day. Since it’s often hard to find the time for people to consider original viewpoints, one of my favorite practices is to have “opposite day” in the classroom and at conferences. Executives and students divide into groups, and each chooses an assumption, belief, or area of knowledge that is widely taken for granted. Each group asks, “When is the opposite true?” and then delivers a presentation on their ideas.
  5. Ban the words like , love , and hate . At the nonprofit DoSomething.org, CEO Nancy Lublin forbade employees from using the words like, love, and hate, because they make it too easy to give a visceral response without analyzing it. Employees aren’t allowed to say they prefer one Web page over another; they have to explain their reasoning with statements like “This page is stronger because the title is more readable than the other options.” This motivates people to contribute new ideas rather than just rejecting existing ones.
  • Building Cultures of Originality
  1. Hire not on cultural fit, but on cultural contribution. When leaders prize cultural fit, they end up hiring people who think in similar ways. Originality comes not from people who match the culture, but from those who enrich it. Before interviews, identify the diverse backgrounds, skill sets, and personality traits that are currently missing from your culture. Then place a premium on those attributes in the hiring process.
  2. Shift from exit interviews to entry interviews. Instead of waiting to ask for ideas until employees are on their way out the door, start seeking their insights when they first arrive. By sitting down with new hires during onboarding, you can help them feel valued and gather novel suggestions along the way. Ask what brought them in the door and what would keep them at the firm, and challenge them to think like culture detectives. They can use their insider-outsider perspectives to investigate which practices belong in a museum and which should be kept, as well as potential inconsistencies between espoused and enacted values.
  3. Ask for problems, not solutions. If people rush to answers, you end up with more advocacy than inquiry, and miss out on the breadth of knowledge in the room. Following Bridgewater’s issue log, you can create an open document for teams to flag problems that they see. On a monthly basis, bring people together to review them and figure out which ones are worth solving.
  4. Stop assigning devil’s advocates and start unearthing them. Dissenting opinions are useful even when they’re wrong, but they’re only effective if they’re authentic and consistent. Instead of assigning people to play the devil’s advocate, find people who genuinely hold minority opinions, and invite them to present their views. To identify these people, try appointing an information manager—make someone responsible for seeking out team members individually before meetings to find out what they know.
  5. Welcome criticism. It’s hard to encourage dissent if you don’t practice what you preach. When Ray Dalio received an email criticizing his performance in an important meeting, copying it to the entire company sent a clear message that he welcomed negative feedback. By inviting employees to criticize you publicly, you can set the tone for people to communicate more openly even when their ideas are unpopular.

Parent and Teacher Actions:

  1. Ask children what their role models would do. Children feel free to take initiative when they look at problems through the eyes of originals. Ask children what they would like to improve in their family or school. Then have them identify a real person or fictional character they admire for being unusually creative and inventive. What would that person do in this situation?
  2. Link good behaviors to moral character. Many parents and teachers praise helpful actions, but children are more generous when they’re commended for being helpful people—it becomes part of their identity. If you see a child do something good, try saying, “You’re a good person because you ___.” Children are also more ethical when they’re asked to be moral people—they want to earn the identity. If you want a child to share a toy, instead of asking, “Will you share?” ask, “Will you be a sharer?”
  3. Explain how bad behaviors have consequences for others. When children misbehave, help them see how their actions hurt other people. “How do you think this made her feel?” As they consider the negative impact on others, children begin to feel empathy and guilt, which strengthens their motivation to right the wrong—and to avoid the action in the future.
  4. Emphasize values over rules. Rules set limits that teach children to adopt a fixed view of the world. Values encourage children to internalize principles for themselves. When you talk about standards, like the parents of the Holocaust rescuers, describe why certain ideals matter to you and ask children why they’re important.
  5. Create novel niches for children to pursue. Just as later-borns sought out more original niches when conventional ones were closed to them, there are ways to help children carve out niches. One of my favorite techniques is the Jigsaw Classroom: bring students together for a group project, and assign each of them a unique part. For example, when writing a book report on Eleanor Roosevelt’s life, one student worked on her childhood, another on her teenage years, and a third on her role in the women’s movement. Research shows that this reduces prejudice—children learn to value each other’s distinctive strengths. It can also give them the space to consider original ideas instead of falling victim to groupthink. To further enhance the opportunity for novel thinking, ask children to consider a different frame of reference. How would Roosevelt’s childhood have been different if she grew up in China? What battles would she have chosen to fight there?

I am grateful to @mollylevit and @mosspike and everyone else involved in launching the bookclub byEdsurge. We read Originals by @AdamMGrant, and even after much thoughtful reflection and a Zoomconference with contributor @rebrebele, I honestly do not feel capable of writing a reflection that does justice to the importance and relevance of this work for so many of our leaders today. It just is. Hence, I reposted his summary.

booksTara Gilboa