Archive for February, 2016

Review: “Originals”

Posted: February 13, 2016 in Book Reviews
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Book Review
Book: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 7 of 10
Adam Grant is quickly becoming one of the preeminent thinkers in modern business and organizational psychology. His recent work Originals comes with high praise from Malcolm Gladwell, Sheryl Sandberg (who writes the introduction), and Peter Thiel. Grant writes in a format similar to Levitt and Dubner’s Freakonomics, posing counterintuitive statements at the beginning of each chapter, then revealing fresh research to back up his assertions. (Example: “You’ll find out what determines whether children rebel in a constructive or destructive direction, why it’s a mistake to tell children not to cheat, how we praise them ineffectively and read them the wrong books, and what we can learn from the parents of individuals who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.”) His insightful work definitely made me pause to reconsider some of my preconceived notions of how creativity is fueled in individuals and organizations.

The Reader’s Digest Version: True innovation and progress only come through risk-taking and failure

Originality

  • Original = “A thing of singular or unique character; a person who is different from other people in an appealing or interesting way; a person of fresh initiative or inventive capacity.”
  • “Originality is taking the road less traveled, championing a set of novel ideas that go against the grain but ultimately make things better.”
  • “Originality is what everybody wants, but there’s a sweet spot. If it’s not original enough, it’s boring or trite. If it’s too original, it may be hard for the audience to understand. The goal is to push the envelope, not tear the envelope.” -Rob Minkoff
  • “Originals occasionally need to reframe their ideas to appeal to their audience.”
  • “When achievement motivation goes sky-high, it can crowd out originality: the more you value achievement, the more you come to dread failure.”

Unreasonable Man

Risk

  • “The word entrepreneur, as it was coined by economist Richard Cantillon, literally means ‘bearer of risk.’”
  • “In the stock market, if you’re going to make a risky investment, you protect yourself by playing it safe in other investments. (Clyde) Coombs suggested that in their daily lives, successful people do the same thing with risks, balancing them out in a portfolio. When we embrace danger in one domain, we offset our overall level of risk by exercising caution in another domain.”
  • “Having a sense of security in one realm gives us the freedom to be original in another.”
  • “Originality is not a fixed trait. It is a free choice. Lincoln wasn’t born with an original personality. Taking on controversy wasn’t programmed into his DNA; it was an act of conscious will. As the great thinker W.E.B. DuBois wrote, ‘He was one of you and yet he became Abraham Lincoln.’”
  • “Ultimately, the people who choose to champion originality are the ones who propel us forward…They feel the same fear, the same doubt, as the rest of us. What sets them apart is that they take action anyway.”

You Need to Generate a TON of Ideas

  • “(Dean) Simonton finds 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. ‘The odds of producing an influential or successful idea,’ Simonton notes, are ‘a positive function of the total number of ideas generated.’”
  • “In every field, even the most eminent creators typically produce a large quantity of work that’s technically sound but considered unremarkable by experts and audiences…To generate a handful of masterworks, Mozart composed more than 600 pieces before his death at thirty-five, Beethoven produced 650 in his lifetime, and Bach wrote over a thousand.”
  • “You gotta kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.” -Dean Kamen
  • “Individual creators have far better odds over a lifetime of ideas. When we judge their greatness, we focus not on their averages, but on their peaks.”

Lessons on Professional Tension from Bridgewater Associates

  • About Bridgewater: “Bridgewater handles over $170 billion in investments for governments, pension funds, universities, and charities. Its philosophy is outlined in a set of over two hundred principles written by the founder…Although there’s always a lot of debate, Bridgewater is a highly cohesive, close-knit community, to the point that its staff frequently call it a family, and it’s common for employees to stay for decades…They’ve been recognized for making more money for clients than any hedge fund in the history of the industry.”
  • “The goal is to create an idea meritocracy, where the best ideas win. To get the best ideas on the table in the first place, you need radical transparency.”
  • “Bridgewater has prevented groupthink by inviting dissenting opinions from every employee in the company.”
  • “Realize you have nothing to fear from the truth.” -Bridgewater Principle
  • “Recognize that behavior modification typically takes about 18 months of constant reinforcement.” -Bridgewater Principle
  • “Don’t let ‘loyalty’ stand in the way of truth and openness. No one has the right to hold a critical opinion without speaking up about it.” -Bridgewater Principle
  • Additional reading: Interview with Bridgewater Founder Ray Dalio

Procrastination

Timing and the Unexpected Benefits of Procrastination

  • “Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity, but it can be a resource for creativity.”
  • “(Jihae) Shin proposed that when you put off a task, you buy yourself time to engage in divergent thinking rather than foreclosing on one particular idea. As a result, you consider a wider range of original concepts and ultimately choose a more novel direction.”
  • “In ancient Egypt, there were two different verbs for procrastination: one denoted laziness; the other meant waiting for the right time.”
  • “Being original doesn’t require being first. It just means being different and better.”

Other Insights

  • “When we’ve developed an idea, we’re typically too close to our own tastes—and too far from the audience’s fast—to evaluate it accurately. We’re giddy from the thrill of the eureka moment or the triumph of overcoming an obstacle. As Brandon Tartikoff, NBC’s longtime entertainment president, frequently reminded his producers, ‘Nobody walks in here with what they think is a bad idea.’”
  • “There’s a hubris that comes with success,” (Randy) Komisar explains…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.”
  • “Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds.” -Albert Einstein
  • “Kill the company” idea: Merck’s CEO Kenneth Frazier asked his executives to “generate ideas that would put Merck out of business. For the next two hours, the executives worked in groups, pretending to be one of Merck’s top competitors…Then, their challenge was to reverse their roles and figure out how to defend against these threats…When they considered how their competitors could put them out of business, they realized that it was a risk not to innovate. The urgency of innovation was apparent.”

 

If you like this book, you may like…
Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Other notable books by the authors:
Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

Book Review
Book: Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace

Reviewer: Bobby Powers

My Thoughts: 9 of 10
Creativity, Inc. is packed with tips for how to breed innovation and employee autonomy in any company. Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, pulls back the covers to reveal how Disney and Pixar foster a healthy culture of creativity by trusting their people to solve problems. This book is required reading for any leader looking to empower his or her people to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

The Reader’s Digest Version: Hire the best, then trust them to excel at their gifts

People

  • “We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute.  We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways.  Finally, we try to identify those impediments and fix them.”
  • “Trust doesn’t mean that you trust that someone won’t screw up—it means you trust them even when they do screw up.”
  • “We realized that our purpose was not merely to build a studio that made hit films but to foster a creative culture that would continually ask questions.”
  • “I look for ways to institutionalize (candor) by putting mechanisms in place that explicitly say it is valuable…Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid with one another.”
  • “What is the point of hiring smart people, we asked, if you don’t empower them to fix what’s broken?”
  • “When looking to hire people, give their potential to grow more weight than their current skill level.  What they will be capable of tomorrow is more important than what they can do today.”

Pixar Characters

Product

  • “To be a truly creative company, you must start things that might fail.”
  • “You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.”
  • “To be wrong as fast as you can is to sign up for aggressive, rapid learning.”
  • “Better to have train wrecks with miniature trains than with real ones.” -Joe Ranft
  • “Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear.”
  • “There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.”
  • “It is not the manager’s job to prevent risks.  It is the manager’s job to make it safe to take them.”
  • “Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others.  Show early and show often.  It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.  And that’s as it should be.”

First Step to Failure

Awesome ideas from Andrew Stanton, director and producer at Pixar

  • “(Stanton) is known around Pixar for repeating the phrases ‘fail early and fail fast’ and ‘be wrong as fast as you can.’  He thinks of failure like learning to ride a bike; it isn’t conceivable that you would learn to do this without making mistakes—without toppling over a few times.  ‘Get a bike that’s as low to the ground as you can find, put on elbow and knee pads so you’re not afraid of falling, and go,’ he says.”
  • “If you apply this mindset to everything new you attempt, you can begin to subvert the negative connotation associated with making mistakes.  Says Andrew: ‘You wouldn’t say to somebody who is first learning to play the guitar, “You better think really hard about where to put your fingers on the guitar neck before you strum, because you only get to strum once, and that’s it.  And if you get that wrong, we’re going to move on.”  That’s no way to learn, is it?’”
  • “There’s a difference between criticism and constructive criticism.  With the latter, you’re constructing at the same time that you’re criticizing.  You’re building as you’re breaking down, making new pieces to work with out of the stuff you’ve just ripped apart.  That’s an art form in itself.”
  • “Include people in your problems, not just your solutions.”

 

If you like this book, you may like…
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Other notable books by the author:
(None)