I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog! – Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson writes about being “Nobody” and how dull it must be to be “Somebody.” In reality, today’s business world is all about being “Somebody,” about making your mark, about being original. Adam Grant, the author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, deals with the subject in depth. In his research, he examines what makes someone successful and how to cultivate the habits that truly make us original.
He explains, “Years ago, psychologists discovered that there are two routes to achievement: conformity and originality. Conformity means following the crowd down conventional paths and maintaining the status quo. Originality is taking the road less traveled, championing a set of novel ideas that go against the grain but ultimately make things better…”
In other words, if you conform, you allow the systems to function just as they are. If they are working, great! If they are not working, well, you are just a cog in the system and don’t think much about whether you can change or modify things for the better. On the other hand, if you are original, you propose new ideas that other people might not like or agree with, but that in the end will benefit and improve the system.
Grant breaks down the idea of originality: “Originality itself starts with creativity: generating a concept that is both novel and useful. But it doesn’t stop there. Originals are people who take the initiative to make their visions a reality…”
Of course, those original ideas have to be good ideas that will better the world around us. How can we be sure those ideas are good? Well, there is no sure-fire way to ensure success, but Grant has a few tips for vetting your ideas and getting them off the ground.
Grant challenges us: “The last time you had an original idea, what did you do with it? Although America is a land of individuality and unique self-expression, in search of excellence and in fear of failure, most of us opt to fit in rather than stand out.”
So, what can you do to generate more original ideas and actually act upon them?
Maintain a strong moral compass. What does morality have to do with originality? As it turns out, quite a bit. In a 2016 interview, Grant clarified that kids who evolve into creative adults tend to have a strong moral compass. Their parents modeled values of excellence and concern for the consequences of their actions on other people. Their parents asked them to think about how they could make a real contribution to the world they were living in by asking questions such as, “How would you like to make it a better place? Who are your role models and what do they do?” At the same time, these children were given the autonomy to figure out how they want to live with those values. This, in turn, led to autonomous and original thinking that could not only better the world, but also make the children money in the future!
Run your ideas by your peers. We tend to be too overly positive about our own ideas (or too negative), and thus are not good judges. Middle managers will want to maintain the status quo, and might be too fearful to approach senior management. That is why it’s important to run ideas by your peers. They will be able to listen objectively and let us know if an idea is worth pursuing.Rifka Schonfeld