March 24, 2016

Book Review: Originals by Adam Grant

originalsWhile reading Adam Grant’s new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, I found myself utilizing four different lenses of observation.

  • Professional
  • Individual
  • Parent
  • Author
That I continuously reflected on Adam’s well-researched and deftly crafted story-telling in such a manner is a credit to the overall brilliance of his manuscript.

Originals is a book that might help you in one or more of the roles I note above, too. It certainly has helped me.

Adam’s writing style picks up where his last book, Give And Take (2013), left me (and arguably others) wanting more. Chock full of interviews and sublimely interesting stories of individuals, teams and organizations, the book also marries legions of academic and professional research to the overarching thesis. For example, the book has more than 250 references.

What is the Originals thesis? Adam uses 10-plus years of research and teaching at Wharton as an organizational psychologist to make his case. His access to research and the ability to conduct individual and Wharton-based research propels the book to levels far exceeding that of argumentative, consultant-written books that have flooded the market in recent years. The book’s main hypothesis—Adam contends that originals are people who take the initiative to make their visions a reality—suggests we ought to be questioning the status quo, balancing risk while effectively closing the gap between insight and action. How does Adam get the reader to believe his hypothesis?

First of all, Adam is an honest and personable writer. It’s as though you’re sharing a beer with him while reading.

Early on in the book, he references a myopic decision of his own that impacted his financial well-being. Instead of agreeing to invest in an early opportunity with Warby Parker, Adam backed away claiming the founders in charge of the startup were not “serious about becoming successful entrepreneurs” and “were destined to fail because they played it safe instead of betting against the farm.” Using it as an example of questioning the status quo while simultaneously citing the need to balance risk, Adam exposes his own learning (and failure – a false negative) which nicely opens up the theory of Originals. We need to be methodical and riskier, always being mindful of thwarting the status quo mindset.

As the book progresses, Adam gets you thinking about how you have previously handled previous decisions and actions. As the first-born of three children, I was often comparing how I handled situations both in my life (as a husband, father, brother, son, etc.) as well as an individual and leader in professional situations. When Adam surfaces stories and statistics about Major League Baseball stolen base leaders, for example, the book forces you to think about your place in your family and at work. Many of the stories and historical examples had me thinking Originals is a bit like the book Freakonomics (2005), what with its incredible links to history, data and statistics, albeit more useful to course-correct your own personal and professional development.

The book concludes with 30 different actions you can take to unleash originality. Written for individuals, leaders, parents and teachers, this short section of very sensible actions cemented my opinion that Adam’s book was in fact written for the three different lens of observation I noted at the beginning of this review.

I have been sitting on this review of Originals for a couple of weeks. In doing so, I took to heart two of Adam’s topics. Procrastination can often elicit the most imaginative and productive results. Second, he provides several examples concerning the first mover advantage. Netflix versus Kozmo is one such story.

Speaking of procrastination and first-movers, perhaps that is why this review is so late. Had I not incubated the book (and become the first-mover reviewer), I might not have surfaced the fourth lens. After re-reading certain sections of the book, it donned on me that authors (like me) might benefit from Adam’s thesis, and his overarching writing style.

As a fellow author, the manner in which Adam structured the book got me thinking about my third book project. Adam does a masterful job of threading an individual’s story or learnings throughout multiple sections and even chapters of the book. This breeds familiarity for the reader, but so too it reinforces points he has made in earlier parts. The short introduction to each chapter also commenced with a story, but it acted as a preamble to what he was going to surface throughout the chapter itself. Adam even warned you in advance of what characters or stories that may appear in the subsequent pages. As an author, going forward I will seek to include these tactics in my third book.

In summary, as J.J. Abrams, film director and executive producer states on the back cover, “This extraordinary, wildly entertaining book sheds new light on the Age of Disruption,” and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook invokes, “[The book] will not only change the way you see the world; it just might change the way you live your life,” I am in full agreement.

Originals is a book that can help individuals, leaders, organizations, parents and teachers appreciate how going against the flow of conventional thought just may result in a more productive, happier if not just world.


Dan Pontefract is author of the forthcoming book, THE PURPOSE EFFECT: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization, available May 10.

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