How Original Are You?

A few years ago, a friend told me to read Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, but I never did get to read it. From what I see online, that book looks beyond the typical drivers of success - such as passion, hard work, talent, and luck - to what the author, Adam Grant, sees as an increasingly necessary element: being able to interact with others.

Grant divides people at work as either takers, matchers, or givers. Takers try to get as much as possible from others. Matchers try to give and take evenly. Givers are the rare ones - people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

Now the author of that book has another book that will probably also be a best-seller.  I heard about Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World  from one of my favorite new podcasts, Hidden Brain, hosted by Shankar Vedantam, which is about research into the unseen.

I enjoyed Grant's story about how he didn't invest in a new company because they still didn't have their website together a day before their launch. The company is now Warby-Parker, founded in 2010 by four Wharton MBA graduates (Grant teaches at Wharton). This startup disrupted the prescription eyewear industry with vintage, boutique-quality eyewear at a low price point. They also fulfill a social mission of giving away a pair of glasses for each one sold.

I like that Grant talks about good procrastination. I like that he finds that regret is greater for those who never try than for those who try and fail. Those that succeed most tend to also fail the most.  You don't get any home runs if you don't get any at-bats.
Grant wrote an article about what he calls pre-crastination. That is the urge to start a task immediately and finish it as soon as possible. He writes that "If you’re a serious pre-crastinator, progress is like oxygen and postponement is agony. When a flurry of emails land in your inbox and you don’t answer them instantly, you feel as if your life is spinning out of control. When you have a speech to give next month, each day you don’t work on it brings a creeping sense of emptiness."

I have a fascination with procrastination. I find some comfort in knowing that people I admire like Leonardo da Vinci and Frank Lloyd Wright were procrastinators like myself. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, like me, are not big risk takers. Even Beethoven had plenty of bad compositions and was not a very good judge of which of his works would be timeless and admired.

You could look at these "originals" as successful despite these "flaws." Adam Grant suggests that those flaws are better viewed as fundamental elements to originality.

Originals are those people who champion novel ideas and values that go against the grain, battle conformity, and buck outdated traditions.

Can these qualities be acquired so that the rest of us can originate new ideas, and practices and not risk it all?  The book says yes.

Once you get past the studies and stories of people in business, politics, sports, and entertainment, the book moves on to advice on how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, choose the right time to act, and  how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children.

How original are you?  You can start with a quiz on his site.

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