Ten Ideas on Originals, Non-Conformists & Entrepreneurs (Part I)


The sine qua non of entrepreneurship is innovation—doing something new, unique and different with a practical application. Easily said, but what individuals think of things that haven’t been done before and then have the interest in pursuing them and going against the grain?

 We can think of these people as “originals.” Further, this originality may come from their personal disposition as “non-conformists.” By nature, these individuals don’t accept the common way of doing things—they may feel that they are not bound by rules or social norms.

 Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton School of Business, recently wrote an excellent book on this topic: Originals[:] How Non-Conformists Move The World (New York, NY: Viking, 2016).

Grant defines “originality” as follows: “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.” [3]

 This concept of originality dovetails with a standard definition of entrepreneurship. I will highlight 10 interesting points from Grant’s book on how to be an original, non-conformity and entrepreneurship.

 First, Grant points out that achievement motivation can crowd out originality. By this he means that if a person to trying achieve then they are striving within the accepted norms of what is valued. Grant points out that, “The more you value achievement, the more you come to dread failure.” [10-11] So, conformists play within the rules. As Grant notes, “most of us opt to fit in rather than stand out” [13] By contrast, non-conformists aren’t interested in conventional achievements. They chart their own path.

 Second, Grant talks about one of the expectations on entrepreneurs when they start companies. A truism for venture capitalists seems to be that to show total commitment entrepreneurs must quite their jobs and throw everything behind a new venture—or it doesn’t show commitment. This is a figurative burning of the ships—there is no escape from the island.

 Grant points out that this process does not enhance chances for success. He notes that, “Entrepreneurs who kept their day jobs had 33 percent lower odds of failure than those who quit.” [16] Why? Grant explains that, “Having a sense of security in one realm gives us the freedom to be original in another.” [19] He points out that Henry Ford started working on his motor car company while at the same time working full-time for Thomas Edison [20]

 Third, we hear that entrepreneurs and creative people need to focus. In short, they shouldn’t get distracted! Yes, but when does the narrowness of focus start? Grant explains that, “…on average, creative geniuses weren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers. They simply produced a greater volume of work, which gave them more variation and a higher chance of originality.” [35] This point resonates with what we often hear of creative geniuses—from Walt Disney to Steve Jobs—who had a gunshot approach to creativity.

 On this same point, Grant further explains that, “It is widely assumed that there’s a tradeoff between quantity and quality—if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it—but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.” [37]

 Fourth, sometimes a good track record can be bad. How so? Grant points out that, “The more successful people have been in the past, the worse they perform when they enter a new environment. They become overconfident, and they’re less likely to seek critical feedback even though the context is radically different.” [54] This resonates with experience In the entrepreneurial realm, where success in one industry doesn’t always transfer well to another.

 Fifth, is first mover advantage truly an advantage? Maybe not. According to Grant, “…the advantages of acting quickly and being first are often outweighed by the disadvantages.” [93] He suggests that people should strategically delay. He makes a very interesting point: “Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity, but it can be a resource for creativity.” [95]

 Grant explains that, ”Along with providing time to generate novel ideas, procrastination has another benefit: it keeps us open to improvisation.” [100] Also, the rush to being first can he a hollow victory. In a study of “pioneers” (first movers) versus “settlers”, timing accounted for 42% of the difference between success and failure. [103] So timing is often more important than being first.

 Entrepreneurs should bear in mind that the objective of being first, to arrive at the destination before competitors, is not what ensures success. Grant’s perspective is that, “Just as procrastinating can give us flexibility on a task, delaying market entry can open us up to learning and adaptability, reducing the risks associated with originality.” [108] This is not standard management teaching.

 Grant summarizes a strategic approach can enhance originality: “Procrastinate strategically. When you’re generating new ideas, deliberately stop when your progress is incomplete. By taking a break in the middle of your brainstorming or writing process, you’re more likely to engage in divergent thinking and give ideas time to incubate.” [246]

Ten Ideas on Originals, Non-Conformists & Entrepreneurs (Part II)