Read this Book! “Originals” Explores the Nature of Originality with a Great Read-Across to Career Development

When we talk about career development, you’ll often hear GetFive team speak of job-hunting and career building as full-time endeavors — and they should be.

But we’re going to depart from that theme a bit with this blog and advocate you spend a few hours on something else — reading. Specifically, we advocate reading the recently published “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant. While the book explores the value and nature of originality in all aspects of life, much of Grant’s insights are especially valuable in the context of career development.

GetFive has long stressed that originality in the workplace is one of the key traits that can make your career. Grant’s book is full of examples of famous people like Steve Jobs who leveraged originality to create not just a career but an empire. He also offers ample examples of originality gone awry, such as the founder of the now-defunct Polaroid, and delves into what makes some original concepts succeed while others fail.

Of particular value is his clarification of what really constitutes “originality” in life, the workplace and business. You may think you already know, but Grant’s insights will make you look at the concept in a new way. Originality, he argues, isn’t about being the first to have an idea or speak an opinion. It’s not about entering the marketplace first with a product, service or idea. Nor does originality mean you must plunge fearlessly into risk.

Rather, Grant posits, originality is about:

  • “Rejecting the default” – Successful innovators eschew the status quo, and instead opt to explore whether better options might exist for solving a problem or fulfilling a need.
  • Managing risks – More than one hugely successful entrepreneur continued to work at his or her day job while getting an original idea off the ground, Grant points out. By assuring security in other aspects of life, innovators free themselves to take risks in their areas of creativity.
  • Effective communication – Originality means recognizing the difference between power and status. Power means you have control over directing the actions of others. Status means you have their respect. If you try to exercise power without status, your original idea will struggle and possibly fail.
  • Timing – Sometimes a good idea needs time to germinate. True innovators are often procrastinators, but not the lazy kind who are just putting off an unpleasant task. Rather, originals use that extra time to continue developing their idea before putting it into action.
  • Managing emotion – Innovation can breed conflict; innovators are often the voice of dissent in a group. Whether the negative energy is from those around you or generated internally, successful innovation requires the ability to redirect and redefine that anxiety into a positive motivator. Many originals, Grant points out, use defensive pessimism to manage anxiety and fear.

Anyone who has ever been the voice of opposition in a meeting, called to light a problem or obstacle your company faced, or challenged the status quo of existing processes by suggesting something new and different has experienced the realities Grant is talking about. These moments of originality and insight are often pivotal in a career, but if you’re not prepared to manage those moments, you could miss out on the opportunities they represent.

Much of GetFive philosophy focuses on teaching you how to make the most of such moments, and Grant concludes his book with an entire section of actionable suggestions on how you can become more original. A few key points mesh particularly well with GetFive approach to career development, including:

  • Question the default – Too many people accept the status quo, and we see that often among the professionals we work with. In any organization, positive change occurs by challenging a status quo that is no longer moving the organization (or your career) forward and providing workable alternatives.
  • Balance risks – Grant says it’s perfectly fine to hedge your bets when fielding an original idea or effort. That’s exactly what you’re doing when you continue to cultivate professional contacts while employed; you’re creating security against the day when you will again be looking for a job and those contacts could help you.
  • Turn negative emotion into motivation – We talk a lot about how to keep yourself motivated throughout a job search, and to continue working toward your greater career goals when you’re securely working. Grant says you can take negative emotions like doubt and anxiety and turn them into motivation through defensive pessimism – as long as you are truly committed to your goal before you entertain those emotions.

Grant’s book offers valuable insight into how anyone can learn to act in ways that nurture their own creativity and originality, and foster that same sense of innovation in others they work with. One of the first points he makes in the book is that originality is not the exclusive bailiwick of prodigies. Indeed, he says, research shows many child prodigies grow up to be unoriginal adults because they become so focused on achievement there is little left over for innovation.

Originality is a vital ingredient to the stew of achievements that go into cooking up a successful career. Grant’s take on how to get there is an interesting, engaging and valuable read for everyone who strives for something beyond the status quo in their professional lives.

“Adam Grant’s first groundbreaking book Give And Take offered so many wonderful concepts that can be applied to career management and job search. The well-researched and deeply insightful book Originals builds on his contribution,” says Darren Kimball, CEO of GetFive.

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