Originals: Summary & Review

originals book cover

Originals by Adam Grant focuses on highly successful professionals who make originality their centerpiece. Grant seeks to distill what makes these people successful artists so that the readers can replicate the “secret formula”.

Bullet Summary

  • Produce lots of work on your way to a masterpiece (instead of focusing on doing one only perfectly)
  • Always question the status quo: it was created by people like you and people like you can change it
  • Become an expert: don’t be the guy who “does the artist” without knowing squat about anything

Full Summary

Originals are co-authored by Sheril Sandberg as well, author of Lean In.

There are plenty of examples in the Originals.
I find the examples to be interesting but too based on correlation to be real proofs for the theories.
Hence, I will skip most of them here.

How Originals Are Different

The author says that there are two paths to success: conformity and originality.

Originals have the same fears and the same doubts as conformists. But what differentiates originals is that they take action in the face of fears and doubts.

Why is that so?
Adam Grant makes the point that they know in their hearts that failing is better than failing to try.

How to Hone Your Creativity

Originals present a few major ideas to improve our effectiveness in our creative endeavors. These are the ones that I liked best:

  • Question the default -and reject it if you find it better-

Questioning the default starts with curiosity, such as pondering why the status quo even exists.
Keep in mind that the rules and the status quo are set by people, and they can be improved by people -and you- as well.

A study of customer representatives found that people who used Firefox or Chrome were happier and more effective on the job.
The simple fact of rejecting the default browser meant that those people looked for better alternatives to the status quo.

My Note: This is meaningless and does not imply causation
That study says nothing about correlation or causation.

  • Protect your downside

While you might think that entrepreneurs necessarily take a risk, you can differentiate between risk-it-all entrepreneurs and risk-averse ones.

And a study of entrepreneurs revealed that those who kept their day job instead of going broke, for example, were 33% more successful.

  • Develop domain experience – then broaden it

Contrary to popular belief originality really thrives on experience.
Domain experience allows the originals to see patterns and improve their intuitions. The “eureka” moments are much more reliable when they come from an expert.

However, when you develop deep and continued expertise in one field only, you tend to become defensive and have difficulty changing.
And that’s why you must combat that by broadening your interests.

For example, scientists who also engaged in artistic pursuits were several times more likely to win the Nobel Prize.

  • Become an idea machine

In the creative arts, quantity equals quality.

Albeit most people assume that there is a trade-off between quality and quantity, it turns out that quantity is one of the most predictable paths to quality.

  • Procrastinate on purpose

You can increase your creativity by taking a break before starting your task.
This happens because when you start a task and finish it, your mind stops thinking about it. But when you start a task and then interrupt you let it “marinate” in your mind and allow it to connect laterally with other information in your mind.

originals book cover

Real-Life Applications

Produce Lots of Ideas
I really loved learning the concept that to do great work you need to produce lots of creative ideas. I’d like to see some more research on it, but for now, I take it for good as it does make some sense indeed.

Get Angry For Something (Rather Than At Someone)
If you vent against someone you get angrier and your rage will accomplish little. If you get angry for something you can channel that energy into something more productive.
For example, in creative endeavors or in making it possible nothing similar will ever happen again.


Not Really Scientific
There is very little empirical evidence here.

Highly Reliant on Correlation
Originals rely heavily on correlation to explain things. For example, it says that because Nobel prize winners who engaged in both arts and science were more likely to win the Nobel prize, then that must mean that broadening your interests makes you more successful.
Or it says that Leonardo didn’t finish the Mona Lisa for 15 years as an example of effective procrastination. But that is not proof that procrastination is effective.
That is terrible evidence. Also, read:

Jumped To Conclusions With Dalio’s Bridgewater
See our review of The Fund.

Bad Advice on Psychology of Persuasion
The author recommends that if you want to have your idea accepted you should start with the negative aspects of it. That will make you a more credible source.
But anyone who’s studied psychology knows that’s a gross over-generalization. What’s effective is highly contextual and depends on the type of audience you’re facing.


Some Awesome Ideas
There are some great ideas here for people who are looking to improve the quality of their work.


Originals is an OK but not great book that ultimately fails to either leave any significant mark.

Adam Grant, the wonderboy of academia, is really good at packaging pop-psychology books that sell.
And he knows that to do that, he must entertain his readers, rather than share actual empirical evidence.

In that sense, Originals is similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s books.
It takes some (unpublished or obscure) social science research and seeks to apply it to daily problems in life.

That approach is interesting and piques people’s curiosity.
And, if successful, it’s potentially useful in the sense that it may provide a novel take or solution.
However, when the goal is to impress and entertain, truthfulness often pay the price.
Meaning, the book is a good past time, and not effective.

And being a non value-adding past-time, to me, is the ultimate sin of pop psyhcology

So, is it Originals the good type of pop-psycholgoy, or the bad type?

Let’s say that it’s neither, really.
Just an OK book that you can probably skip.

get the book on Amazon

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