Monday, November 21, 2016

Originals by Adam Grant

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant was an interesting read that brought to mind books such as those by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt and by Malcolm Gladwell.

Grant is an acclaimed 35 year-old professor at the Wharton School of Business and in Originals, he puts forth a number of compelling ideas, some he covered in his February 2016 TED Talk, "The surprising habits of original thinkers." Those included the benefits of procrastination, with the example of how Martin Luther King Jr. delayed in writing his "I Have a Dream" speech and his ideas germinated, and the power of those who have doubts about their ideas and proceed cautiously, with the example of Grant's students who started the business Warby Parker.

Some of the ideas from Originals that weren't in Grant's TED Talk included how people who use Firefox or Chrome as their PC browser in aggregate tend to be more successful than those who use an already installed web browser because they took the initiative to go and get something different, and how if you want to do original and impactful work, the big thing is to do a lot of work, much of it unremarkable.

Also tremendously interesting from Originals was the chapter on leaders in the women's rights movement who in the 1800's should have been allies, but became bitter enemies, delaying success for the movement. The idea that Grant put forth was that if people agree on some things, their disagreement on others can be much more profound than disagreements between people who don't agree on anything, and never expected to. Very much related to this idea is how methods and tactics can be more important than values, as they're more easily agreed upon, and can avoid the bitter fights over value differences. From Grant in his chapter on first and later born kids was the concept of praising and speaking to character rather than actions, with the example "don't be a cheater," rather than "don't cheat," having more impact. It's an interesting idea which actually runs counter to notions I've seen elsewhere about praising the actions and activities of kids rather than making character based statements out of their actions.

The final concept out of Originals to note here was the the idea of fighting a battle in different ways depending on how strong the support for your fight. Grant told the story of the non-violent resistance group Otpor! that helped lead the charge to overthrow Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia. When Otpor! was gathering support for the cause, they focused having people feel part of a larger group opposing Milošević and engaging in smaller-scale resistance tactics they could get behind and not feel exposed them to much retribution and danger. Along these lines, a story was told how in Chile in the 1980's, people drove slowly in town to protest the Pinochet government and in Poland, people pushed their televisions in wheelbarrows through town to protest government lies in the news. The idea of all this was that when commitment toward a goal is wavering or thin, it's best to consider progress already made, or focus on humor, then when commitment solid, it's then best to look at bad things to overcome or avoid or work still to be done. If that "negative motivation" brought up too soon, it can jeopardize the movement before it gains it's footing.