J.J. Abrams. Sir Richard Branson. Arianna Huffinton. Sheryl Sandberg. Peter Thiel. The blurbs on the back cover of Originals are impressive. The list of awards the book has won is impressive. Adam Grant’s research is impressive. But for a book on originality and creativity, Originals is shockingly formulaic and derivative. If you’re dying to get an overview of management psychology, read this book. Otherwise, the irony of the author constantly quoting other people’s work on how to be an original thinker will drive you crazy. The formulaic, academic structure compounds this bland writing style to create a book on originality that is lacking in creative inspiration.
The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists. (7)
The book covers a wide breadth of examples. Too wide. There’s something that didn’t quite sit well when Grant moved from Skype on one page to youth activists seeking to use nonviolence to overthrow a dictator on another. It’s jarring to jump from business case study to autobiography to psychological study to real world experience. And the way they’re all jumbled up makes it seem as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement are just another case study you read about in business school.
I want to debunk the myth that originality requires extreme risk taking and persuade you that originals are actually far more ordinary than we realize. In every domain, from business and politics to science and art, the people who move the world forward with original ideas are rarely paragons of conviction and commitment. As they question traditions and challenge the status quoe, they may appear bold and self-assured on the surface. But when you peel back the layers, the truth is that they, too, grapple with fear, ambivalence, and self-doubt. (16)
I know I’m being harsh, perhaps even overly harsh. The book isn’t bad. But it could have been so much better. The idea is stellar. The execution is average. There is solid advice in the book. Go to a bookstore read the “actions for impact” section. It’s an appendix that summarizes the main points in list format and it’ll tell you everything you need to know from the book. I was left with a bunch of interesting tidbits, but to dive into the fascinating stories I’ll need to look up the original research that this book only samples.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Next time: What Three Months of Reading Business Books Taught Me