who you epp: How To Become an Original – an Adam Grant keynote

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how to be an original

Time to learn small abeg…before person gets rusty and proud still…

…who you epp? Read this, share this, and you’d be actually epping someone somewhere….


Adam Grant, bestselling author and professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, delivered the keynote address at the recent ForeSee Summit, the annual client conference of online customer experience analytics provider ForeSee. While Grant did not discuss “digital” issues exclusively, his very engaging keynote did address best practices for becoming a highly-creative and productive innovator – and one digital-based example he did discuss concerned the founders of “the Netflix of eyewear,” Warby Parker.

Grant’s keynote was based on his current book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, and focused on six characteristics he has identified that people he defines as “originals” – highly creative innovators that produce game-changing ideas, technology, art, and more – all seem to possess, in varying degrees.

Following are the six characteristics of originals, which Grant says everyone can employ to become “more like originals” – in the order Grant discussed them:

Question the Default: Originals are not content with the status quo – they are in tune with, and seek out, what Grant calls “vuja de” moments (the opposite of “déjà vu”) – those moments where you experience truly original thoughts, through the ability to look at very familiar things with a totally fresh perspective.

Give Ideas Time to Incubate: Grant poses the theory that originals engage in “moderate, strategic procrastination,” delaying action on an idea just long enough for the idea to emerge fully formed. He cites research and examples, including the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s procrastination on a project resulting in one of his greatest achievements, Fallingwater.

Generate Lots of Ideas: Grant shares research that shows the most prolific idea-generators generally end up being the most iconic originals. He discusses Thomas Edison and composers including Bach, Mozart and Beethoven as examples. “The easiest way to be original is to generate variety,” Grant said. And it’s OK that many of the ideas fail; the important thing is the variety and volume of ideas generated create an environment for the great ideas to germinate and succeed.

“The easiest way to be original is to generate variety.”

Avoid False Negatives: Grant defines a “false negative” as “rejecting a good idea.” Originals are open and consider all ideas very carefully before dismissing them. Grant said in his management consulting work, he has people go through an exercise of generating their own ideas about an issue or a problem, before evaluating others’ ideas, to make the evaluation process more open and objective.

Make the Unfamiliar Familiar: Originals can take an unfamiliar or less-popular concept and make it accessible for a wider audience. Grant’s example was Disney’s The Lion King: the initial pitch for the movie was “Bambi in Africa with lions”, and as the idea developed, someone on the creative team took a Shakespearean approach, and the pitch became “Hamlet with lions,” to great success.

Pitch Ideas to Those with Differing Opinions: Originals seek out people with viewpoints and opinions that differ from theirs to share ideas with, to end up with the best refinement of each idea. Grant classifies people into groups of “givers” or “takers,” who possess the qualities of being “disagreeable” or “agreeable”. He says the ideal person to pitch ideas to is the “disagreeable giver,” because that person will challenge your ideas, but with the positive, good intent of helping you make your ideas better. (Grant says avoid the “agreeable taker,” because that person is most likely to steal credit for your ideas!)

Watch Grant’s “Originals” TED Talk (which includes his Warby Parker story).

Watch a video interview or read the transcript on the Knowledge@Wharton site, for more “Originals” insights from Grant.

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