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Why You Shouldn’t Read Adam Grant’s Originals

Three books that are amongst the best that I have read are Quiet by Susan Cain, The Go-Giver by Bob Burg & John David Mann, and Give & Take by Adam Grant. These books have spurred widespread discussion and, personally, made me reflect on being a better person in terms of listening and being more of a “strategic giver.”

Grant is an author I came to know after hearing him speak at the University of Toronto a couple years ago about his previous best-seller Give and Take. When I learned Grant’s newest book Originals would be released on February 2nd; I looked forward to it. Especially after I completed this 5-minute quiz to see if I knew what it took to be original. Questions asked such as “Compared to the general population, entrepreneurs tend to be: (a) More risk-averse (b) Less risk-averse or (c) Really, really, ridiculously good looking.”

Of course I answered (c) which explains why only 6/15 questions were answered correctly (the average score) but how effective is an online quiz?

Screeching Halt

As I started reading Originals, its overarching theme about “How Non-Conformists Move The World” challenges some common assumptions made about innovators, disruptors and leaders.

I reflected on my tour of duty at Apple as Grant writes in Originals how a manager at Apple had the courage to challenge Steve Jobs. That sounds easy when Apple’s own television ads celebrate “Thinking Different.” But based on my experience at Apple it’s easier said than done. Grant’s research further revealed my loyalty to the Safari browser might be an indicator that I’m not very original.

This made me come to a screeching halt as I figured only a non-conformist would recommend others read this book so instead I’ll provide three reasons why you should not read Originals:

1. One third of the way into the book, the author shares research by Teresa Amabile where she asks people to gauge the intelligence and expertise of The New York Times book reviewers. It turned out critical reviewers who were more scathing in their book reviews were rated to be “14% more intelligent and have 16% greater literary expertise than the complimentary reviewer”. (How can a best-selling author and Wharton professor include a fact like this in their book and not expect to receive a tough review?)

2. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely and the common school of thought is one must make bold (even reckless) decisions to succeed. As Grant questions in his book:

“If you don’t swing for the fences, it’s impossible to hit a home run. Isn’t it?”

He gives the example of Warby Parker and how its founders “hedged their bets” rather than go blindly into building their stat-up which ultimately disrupted a billon dollar industry. To me, I found this hypothesis tough to swallow, as it is proposed that successful entrepreneurs and leaders don’t blindly “go full speed ahead & consequences be damned” courageous risks but take calculated risks.

3. The author shares “The Sarick Effect” where entrepreneur Rufus Griscom pitches venture capitalists to raise money for his start-up Babble. However, Griscom does the opposite of most entrepreneurs and presented a slide of Top 5 reasons not to invest in his startup. As Grant notes, it should have killed his pitch but the counterintuitive approach worked and Babble raised $3.3 million in funding that year. But that must be an outlier because how much credibility does a business philosophy that seems to imitate a classic Seinfeld episode featuring George Constanza really have?

Asking For Directions

I suspect by this point you know that I enjoyed reading Originals as it reinforced that speaking out in the face of adversity is easier said than done but necessary for positive change. Derek Sivers narrates in this terrific 3-minute video that being “original means being a first follower may often be even more important than being a leader.

In my life, one person who consistently and quietly conducts herself as an “original” is my wife. There are others who I’m blessed to have in my life that share this special mindset from mentors, advisor to foundational clients that we’ve worked together with over the years. Based on my experience as an educator who works closely with senior executives, I’ve realized what separates “managers” from “Originals” (leaders) are those willing to speak up when it’s needed. They possess a natural curiosity and a powerful desire to continuously learn. Where they don’t allow their ego to get in the way of opening their minds or admitting they don’t always have all the answers. Where they have enough humility to ask for directions when lost.

In a digitally connected world, being open to new ideas is more critical than ever because social media can push all of us toward conformism. Be it simply by following a popular meme or cultural zeitgeist without asking questions.

Upon finishing this book, I’ve reflected on a few things I presumed to know as an entrepreneur and also as a father; so much so that I’ve purchased copies of it for friends and clients. You cannot advise others to read a book if you aren’t prepared to put your own money where your mouth is. Originals is an excellent book and if a positive review makes me appear less intelligent or original for advising others read it, so be it as I gotta be me.

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