How do we become more innovative?

Are we born with originality or do we cultivate it?

The areas of creativity, innovation, and originality have always been of particular interest to me.

Over the years, just about every teacher I have ever had growing up and everyone I have worked with or for has used the words “innovative, thought leader, and original” to describe me, based on their interactions with me over time. (On a comprehensive leadership assessment that includes “originality” as a key dimension—I score a 96 out of 100 score on that dimension—which is apparently pretty out of the norm.)

So when I found out about Adam Grant’s new 2016 book, “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World”—I immediately got on the pre-order list. (Grant is top-rated business professor at Stanford University) When I received it this past week—I delved into it and read it in two evenings. He examines the whole notion of originality and how we can stand up for new ideas, policies, and practices without risking our reputations, relationships, and careers.

It is a great read.

Something that is worth highlighting is the study of what we deem to be “creative geniuses” conducted over the years by psychologist Dean Simonton. (Think Beethoven, Picasso, Shakespeare, Thomas Edison, etc.)

Simonton found that on average—these “creatives” weren’t qualitatively better in their chosen fields than their peers.


What was the differentiator, then?

VOLUME of work.

“The odds of producing an influential or successful idea”, Simonton noted, “are a positive function of the total number of ideas generated.”

He goes on to talk about the volumes of work Beethoven, Shakespeare, Picasso, Edison, and even Maya Angelou produced in their careers—and how only a small number of them in proportion were “hits” or really took off. (Edison had 1,093 patents!)

Grant goes on to make the argument that when it comes to originality—quantity produces quality over time. People fail at originality because they only generate one idea and spend too much time attached to it—rather than letting a “pet” idea go.

Originals come up with a large volume of work—and keep at it. The odds are then in their favor—one of them sticks. They are not worried about failure so much—as they are about experimentation. High achievement orientation negates this experimental mentality—an intense desire to succeed can lead to sticking with tried and true ideas that seem guaranteed for success

Think about the implications of some of this thinking in your own world.

Do you stick with the tried and true ideas you know work and have worked in the past?

Does a failure derail you—and make you cautious about trying something new?

Are you resilient–do you move on from a setback quickly?

Can you change directions and course of action when circumstances change?

Are you attached to validation from others and being seen as successful?

Do you create an environment where others can generate new ideas and try them out–or do you stick with the status quo and same ways of doing things to be safe

Grant shows us that originality can be cultivated and has a lot to do with our mindsets.

A learning orientation, insatiable curiosity, a resilient nature, and pure determination and hard work are the basics when it comes to nurturing and cultivating originality.

Give his book a look at the link below.  He has some great action worksheets at the end for leaders who want to stimulate novel ideas in their organizations and for individuals who want to generate and champion new ideas.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World