Me. Myself. I.
Since its beginning, American culture has placed great emphasis on originality. In recent years, advertising and marketing campaigns have taken this concept even further: Be Yourself. Be Original. Be Different.
But in a seemingly never-ending sea of individuals all trying to be different, how does one truly stand out? How do truly extraordinary people find a path to originality?
Writer Adam Grant, author of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World,” believes he knows how. According to Grant, there’s no genius gene, no predetermined path to originality. Original thinkers, Grant says, are made and not born. And of the few people who are born with extraordinary talent?
“[I]f you assemble a large group of child prodigies and follow them for their entire lives, you’ll find that they don’t outshine their less precocious peers from families of similar means.” Gran continues: “Although child prodigies are often rich in both talent and ambition, what holds them back from moving the world forward is that they don’t learn to be original . . . practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.”
So, if being a child prodigy isn’t the way to become original, what is?
Grant writes that original individuals—entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, and leaders—remain slightly less “risk adverse,” that is, they are more willing to take calculated risks, than the rest of us. “But the most successful originals are not the daredevils who leap before they look,” Grant writes. “They are the ones who reluctantly tiptoe to the edge of the cliff, calculate the rate of decent, triple-check their parachutes, and set up a safety net just in case.”
Also, Grant makes the case that truly original thinkers are ones who don’t readily follow the crowd. “When hundreds of historians, psychologists, and political scientists evaluated America’s presidents,” Grant says, “they determined that the least effective leaders were those who followed the will of the people and the precedents set by their predecessors.” In other words, presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, who Grant cites as one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history, more or less made their own path. It’s advice that has been given over and over again, but it always somehow seems elusive.
The key message in Grant’s book?
Truly original individuals take risks—albeit calculated risks—and do not allow the fear of the cliff stop them from taking the leap. One of the many key things that distinguished Apple in its early years wasn’t the fact that they manufactured computers but it successfully projected and foresaw all of the potential uses of personal computing. Finally, it remains uplifting that Grant holds firm to the belief that we all can, perhaps one day, be trailblazers.
Grant, A. (2016). Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. Random House, New York, NY.