How to become an original

We were working with a client on a project to support and develop top innovation achievers. One of the books we uncovered is “Originals” by Adam Grant. It sums up a lot of the thinking from other business thinkers. The book starts with this quote:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.

This book is about becoming an unreasonable man or women. With surprisingly reasonable or common sense conclusions and tips.

What browser do you use?

Starting with your browser. Nothing to do with filter bubbles, but everything to do with attitude.Employees who used Firefox or Chrome to browse the Web remained in their jobs 15% longer than those who used Internet Explorer or Safari. The employees who took the initiative to change their browsers to Firefox or Chrome approached their jobs differently.


You need to be a master in what you do. But at the same time realising that practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new. Our intuitions are only accurate in domains where we have a lot of experience. And because the pace of change is accelerating, our environments are becoming ever more unpredictable. This makes intuition less reliable as a source of insight about new ideas. Originality remains an act of creative destruction. Originality is not a fixed trait. It is a choice.

You need to procrastinate

True originals take a long time. The proposals from the procrastinators were 28% more creative. Delaying progress enabled them to spend more time considering different ways to accomplish it, instead of  “seizing and freezing” on one particular strategy. In ancient Egypt, there were two different verbs for procrastination: one denoted laziness; the other meant waiting for the right time.

You need fellow creators to assess your idea

The biggest barrier to originality is not idea generation—it’s idea selection. When managers vet novel ideas, they’re in an evaluative mindset. To protect themselves against the risks of a bad bet, they compare the new notion on the table to templates of ideas that have succeeded in the past. Focus groups are effectively set up to make the same mistakes as managers. So neither test audiences nor managers are ideal judges of creative ideas. But there is one group of forecasters that does come close: fellow creators evaluating one another’s ideas. When artists assessed one another’s performances, they were about twice as accurate as managers and test audiences in predicting success.

You need to study art

Nobel Prize winners were dramatically more likely to be involved in the arts than less accomplished scientists. A representative study of thousands of Americans showed similar results for entrepreneurs and inventors. People who started businesses and contributed to patent applications were more likely than their peers to have leisure time hobbies that involved drawing, painting, architecture, sculpture, and literature. Just as scientists, entrepreneurs, and inventors often discover novel ideas through broadening their knowledge to include the arts, we can likewise gain breadth by widening our cultural repertoires. Research on highly creative adults shows that they tended to move to new cities much more frequently than their peers in childhood, which gave them exposure to different cultures and values and encouraged flexibility and adaptability.

You need to add familiarity to your idea

Take a look at this list of familiar songs. Pick one of them and tap the rhythm to it on a table. Now, what do you think the odds are that one of your friends would recognise the song you’re tapping? This is the core challenge of speaking up with an original idea. When you present a new suggestion, you’re not only hearing the tune in your head. You wrote the song. You’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months, or maybe even years thinking about the idea. This explains why we often under-communicate our ideas.

Exposure effect

You need to create an exposure effect —the more familiar a face, letter, number, sound, flavour, brand, or Chinese character becomes, the more we like it. “Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt,” says serial entrepreneur Howard Tullman. “It breeds comfort.” To come up with something original, you need to begin from a more unfamiliar place and then add familiarity, which capitalises on the exposure effect. On average, a novel starting point followed by a familiarity infusion led to ideas that were judged as 14% more practical, without sacrificing any originality.

You should not be too radical

The Goldilocks theory of coalition formation. The originals who start a movement will often be its most radical members, whose ideas and ideals will prove too hot for those who follow their lead. To form alliances with opposing groups, it’s best to temper the cause, cooling it as much as possible. Originals must often become tempered radicals.

You need to create a common passion

Commitment blueprints worked to build strong emotional bonds among employees and to the organisation. They often used words like family and love to describe the companionship in the organisation, and employees tended to be intensely passionate about the mission. Startups with founders that had a commitment blueprint, the failure rate of their firms were zero—not a single one of them went out of business.

You need to create dissenting voices

However, existing companies in volatile settings like the computer, aerospace, and airline industries, the benefits of strong cultures disappear. Company performance only improved when CEOs actively gathered advice from people who weren’t their friends and brought different insights to the table, which challenged them to fix mistakes and pursue innovations. Minority viewpoints are important, not because they tend to prevail but because they stimulate divergent attention and thought, They contribute to the detection of novel solutions and decisions that, on balance, are qualitatively better. Dissenting opinions are useful even when they’re wrong.

Maverick in residence

Which is why we like the maverick in residence as a concept so much. It creates the necessary dialogue to improve your organisation.

Idea meritocracy

The book uses Bridgewater Associates. Headquartered in Connecticut as an example. Its philosophy is outlined in a set of over two hundred principles written by the founder. In a typical organisation, people are punished for raising dissent. At Bridge-water, they’re evaluated on whether they speak up—and they can be fired for failing to challenge the status quo. In hiring, instead of using similarity to gauge cultural fit, Bridgewater assesses cultural contribution. It wants people who will think independently and enrich their culture. By holding them accountable for dissenting, Dalio has fundamentally altered the way people make decisions. The goal is to create an idea meritocracy, where the best ideas win. Read “Principles

You need to get angry

If you want people to modify their behaviour, you need to highlight the costs of not changing. To drive people out of their comfort zones, you have to cultivate dissatisfaction, frustration, or anger at the current state of affairs, making it a guaranteed loss. Once the commitment is fortified, instead of glancing in the rearview mirror, it’s better to look forward by highlighting the work left to be done. When we’re determined to reach an objective, it’s the gap between where we are and where we aspire to be that lights a fire under us. Anger counteracts apathy: We feel that we’ve been wronged, and we are compelled to fight.

Other tips:

  • don’t take too much risk
  • don’t believe in first mover advantage
  • work hard
  • quantity over quality
  • have a vision

Be old

I am over fifty years old. The best news from the book was that there is evidence that older employees tend to submit more ideas and higher-quality ideas than their younger colleagues, with the most valuable suggestions coming from employees older than fifty-five.

sensemaking cover


Sense making; morality, humanity, leadership and slow flow. A book about the 14 books about the impact and implications of technology on business and humanity.

Ron Immink

I help companies by developing an inspiring and clear future perspective, which creates better business models, higher productivity, more profit and a higher valuation. Best-selling author, speaker, writer.

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