It’s disheartening to think that there is no such thing as an original idea. Originality feels hard to come by and even harder to achieve. But don’t be deterred or let the obstacles that lay before you stop you from chasing your original ideas. In Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, best-selling author and noted influential management thinker Adam Grant examines the conflict of presenting new ideas and how we need to undertake risk to truly achieve excellence.
The Risk Of Originality
Even if you don’t consider yourself creative, you’re still likely to encounter unique opportunities that you’re reluctant to take because they feel risky. Many historical figures who are noted for their originality — George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., and Michelangelo, to name a few — were incredibly hesitant at first, as well.
In a letter to his wife, George Washington reflected on his role in the Revolutionary Army. He wrote, “I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it.”
Similarly, Martin Luther King Jr. remembered the moment he was nominated for the presidency of the Montgomery Improvement Association. He wrote, “I had so recently finished my thesis and needed to give more attention to my church work.”
Michelangelo found painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling to be an overwhelming task. He even fled to Florence for two years before he was finally convinced to do it.
In the first chapter of Originals, Grant notes that these famed figures had to be pressured into action. He writes that many have to be “dragged or catapulted into the spotlight” to pursue their ideas. People pursuing original ideas are forced to stand out, which can be very intimidating and lead to fear of failure.
Excellence Isn’t Guaranteed
The problem with risking originality is that excellence isn’t always guaranteed, even for the greats. As Grant says, “Nobody has a biological immunity to risk.” Perhaps that’s why trends gain momentum — popularity lessens risk. Throughout the book, Grant encourages readers to go against the “norm” and challenge this tendency toward conformity. He offers a new perspective on originality noting that achieving excellence and experiencing risk go hand in hand.
Originals neatly expresses (perhaps unintentionally) the beauty of failure: It proves that we have to overcome fear to take risks, move the world, and make space for our originality and success.