Book Review: Originals How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant




“The more you value achievement the more you dread failure. Instead of aiming for unique accomplishments the intense desire to succeed leads us to strive for guaranteed success” (37-38).

“Research shows that the mistakes we regret are not errors of commission, but errors of omission” (182).

I have tried to write a review for this book about three times now, and I’ve really struggled with it.  First, as you’re reading through this you’ll note that this book has revealed/highlighted a lot of personal revelations to me, making this review a pretty personal one.  Secondly,  my  problem is that there is just too much information to try to portray in a quick book review. So I apologize if this review is kind of all over the place, I really did try to stay on task, but I feel like there may be some weird tangents as you read through.

Adam Grant is able to write Originals How Non-Conformists Move the World because he has proven himself to be an original thinker.  As seen through his many accomplishments in life (achieved by the incredibly young age of 35) it is not difficult to determine where his knowledge and passion comes from on this subject.  Grant is a tenured professor, listed as 1 of 25 world’s most influential management thinkers by  Thinkers50, as well as part of Fortune’s 40 under 40.

Sheryl Sandberg writes the forward for his book, where she not only supports Grant’s first hand knowledge on the topic, but also puts forward a very important question.  One of my favourite quotes in the books is written by Sandberg, she writes:

Every day, we all encounter things we love and things that need to change.  The former give us joy.  The latter fuel our desire to make the world different – ideally better than when we found it.  But trying to change deep-seated beliefs and behaviours is daunting.  We accept the status quo because effecting real change seems impossible.  Still, we dare to ask: Can one individual make a difference? And, in our bravest moments: Could that one individual be me?

As Sandberg points out, the answer to this question is yes.  And that is essentially what this book is about.

Before getting into the meat of the book, I think it’s important to explain why I was attracted to picking this book up in the first place.  I don’t expect that this is the type of book someone would naturally gravitate toward for a little bit of light reading.  Which is probably a good thing, because it’s not light reading.  It’s a book that offers substance – anyhow, I digress – my reason for picking up this book.

In order to answer this question, you really would have to understand where I am at in my life. I am currently on an 8  month leave from work to accompany my husband down to the States as he completes his final requirement in fulfilling an engineering degree. With that, the discussion of “what’s next” has become very prevalent in our lives. I completed my degree 3 years ago, and still have yet to reap any rewards from that. Bradley (my husband), has killed himself to graduate with an honours average in engineering, he has done everything right to get him to a place where he can be successful. Now, it’s time to figure out what success looks like to us. The problem is that, for us, success doesn’t look like a house, a 9-5 job, kids, cars, and material possessions. We want something different, and that is what attracted me to this book.

When asked the question, if you could do anything with your life what would it be, I think most people would have an answer.  Even if they didn’t, when asked what are you passionate about, probably  even more people would be able to respond to that question.  I was recently asked both those questions, and I genuinely had no answer.  I don’t have a dream anymore, I don’t have a goal.  I don’t know what I want to do with my life, and I think that has led to some problems.  Complacency, disappointment, regret, it’s all there. It’s not something I focus on every day, but if at my age if have nothing to aim for….then what am I expecting the rest of my life to look like.  We live once, that’s it, we are a blip on the radar.  Don’t most people want that time to matter? I picked up this book because I don’t want fear of success or failure to be what holds power in my life.

I have tried for so long now to try to establish what I want to do with life, and looking back there is certainly a key moment where things, maybe fell off the rails for me a little bit.  When I was in high school music was my life.  I had something almost every night of the week: two different school bands, 3 different singing groups, and community theatre.  I was sure music was going to be my career, and then…I stopped.  I cold turkey quit everything music one day and the love I had for music I have never experienced again.  There are things that matter to me, that maybe would be cool to do, but the path of how to get somewhere, what is step one, can be the most frustrating process in the world.  So, making a long answer – well, long.  That is why I picked up this book.  I wanted to know, how do you put down the status quo and just go for it.

My expectation for this books was simply to discover something that would help motivate me to live life the way I want to live it, and not the way I’m expected to.  I’m expecting to be informed on pretty much exactly what the title suggests. How do you live a life without conforming to the world around you and its societal expectations? I think I actively rebel against what society expects from me, in sometimes very simplistic ways EX: TV shows that everyone watches and talks about, I find myself avoiding just because I don’t want to get caught up in the same hype that everyone else is caught up in. That’s a very small example, but it illustrates how I feel about most aspects of my life: work, home, kids, marriage, etc. I don’t want to be normal. So, let’s see what I can learn from what is written in this book.

Before moving on to the most substantive book review, you should probably know that I think I came at this book from a different lens than was intended.  Which may have made some of the information put forth in this book more relevant than other portions.  This book would be spectacular for those in leadership roles – whether at work, volunteering, school, or family.  The principles put forth about supporting dissenting opinion, being creative, and generally allowing others or yourself to swim against the stream is invaluable.  It will turn someone in authority into an actual respected leader.  Something that doesn’t necessarily travel hand in hand.

Grant offers many real life examples of people who experience original thinking first hand.  Whether the were doing the influencing or being influenced, Grant is very thorough is his explanation of what original thinkers look like, how they act, how they achieve, and how they deal with resistance.

That being said, if you’re someone just trying to find your footing and maybe get something kick started – this book offers some really good insight into how to jump start that in yourself.

Have you ever noticed with non-fiction books that the first chapter or two can speak so clearly to you.  You read it and you think “YES!” this book is going to teach me things, I am going to learn – and then you get to the third chapter and all of a sudden the topic is so dry.  I don’t know if the first couple chapters are  meant to sucker you in, be more motivating than fact and then you get to where the actual argument of a topic needs to be presented and all of a sudden it is the most boring subject in the world.  Maybe my view comes off as jaded due to years of school where that was just the case with text books, but regardless of how much I was attracted to this book, I still held this concern.

I think the foreword and the first three chapters were the strongest.  However, that’s because the information I was hoping for was more squarely contained in those chapters, I imagine that for people on different walks in their lives/careers would find the other chapters just as valuable.  I’m not saying that the later information presented wasn’t still useful, it just wasn’t as relevant to what I was looking for as the first couple of chapters.  I believe that in a more developed career they would be incredibly beneficial, particularly if you’re leading people – whether in work or family.

In chapter one “Creative Destruction (The Risky Business of Going Against the Grain)” Grant sets out a list of what normally constitutes an original. I generally don’t fall under any of these characteristics (thankfully Bradley does), which maybe is even more motivating to swim against the stream.  I may be more predisposed to follow the norm in life, and as previously mentioned I pretty actively try not to do that.

The biggest take away from this book is the danger of the status quo and being too comfortable in the environment that you’re in.  The idea of “rocking the boat” is rarely presented as a good alternative to just working with the consensus of those around you.  As a child you’re taught to co-operate with others and respect authority.  Those are very valuable lessons but they may help perpetuate the expectation of just doing what is expected.

I think potentially one of the best arguments put forth by Grant was in chapter 4 “Fools Rush In (Timing, Strategic Procrastination, and the First-Mover Disadvantage).” According to Grant, there is some benefit to procrastination – thank goodness! The idea of procrastination in itself maybe isn’t so great, but trying to apply what I was reading to my life it just gave me hope.  Just because maybe I’m trying to figure life out later than I would’ve hoped doesn’t mean that I’m screwed.  Possibly not the core point of this chapter, but frankly, I will take any argument I can in my favour at this point.  Grant writes that “although it can be risky to delay, you’ll see that waiting can also reduce risk by preventing you from putting all your eggs in one basket” (187).  Procrastinating allows you to sit back and look at the situation more fully.  See how the world is developing around you and whatever idea you have.  It may provide hindsight from other situations allowing you to sit back and let other people dive in first and potentially make mistakes, before you come in and with the ability to learn from what others before you have done.

One final take away from this book is the idea of “groupthink.”  Groupthink is “…the tendency to seek consensus instead of fostering dissent” (333).  Clearly, this theory again supports the argument of difficult it can be to step away from the status quo.  It’s challenging to be the only differing voice in a large room, it’s hard to make decisions that go against what is expected of you.  Small or large decisions can be subject to this theory, and I don’t even know that we are aware of it a lot of the time.

Anyhow, overall, this book was a really good read.  Some parts took more creativity in trying to apply them to my life, but the whole of the message of the book was certainly affirming.



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