Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World – by Adam Grant

This is a thought-provoking read– especially if you are of a mind to be an innovator of any sort.

It begins with a quote from GB Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” And the story of Warby Parker and what a set of constrained friends were able to achieve because they were unhappy with the status quo.

Parts of the book provide insights into case studies that are interesting, to say the least, as a way to illustrate some of the thinking Grant puts forward. And, through the book, Grant questions the basic premise of originality– white space. “Being original doesn’t require being first. It just means being different and better.”

He also delves into a few deep-seated ideas around originality– like child prodigies who rarely go on to change the world– and identifies a few new ones. “The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.” And contrary to common expectations, entrepreneurship and forgoing original paths is not really the purview of high-risk takers. “… the most successful originals are not the daredevils who leap before they look.”

The bias of overconfidence is another key topic with several interesting examples including those of Dean Kamen and his Segway and Seinfeld– which met with both interest and resistance from completely unexpected quarters.

Quoting Albert Einstein, “Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds”, Grant draws attention to the fact that pioneering ideas need to garner support. Being in a minority while presenting an unfamiliar thought or idea to a new, unaware audience (seeking their support for it) means working against the tide to bring in the level of understanding and support you already have for an idea that has taken shape over time in your head. This also means going out on a limb to ensure your audience buys into the same big picture. Quite a tall order.

Counterintuitively, Grant makes a case for procrastination, as ideas foment in the subconscious to bring up the best in a way that staying focused may not bring in. The most famous words of Martin Luther King are attributed to the Zeigarnik effect– people have a better memory for incomplete than complete tasks.

Grant points out that the downsides of being the first mover are frequently bigger than the upsides. When originals rush to be pioneers, they are prone to overstep. The kinds of people who choose to be late movers may be better suited to succeed as they are more risk-averse. further, they tend to improve on existing ideas to make things better. They are also more likely to be more observant and responsive to changing markets and consumer tastes. Quoting Bill Gross, the founder of IdeaLab, “Timing accounted for forty-two percent of the difference between success and failure”.

Delving into the role of age in innovation, Grant points out the differences between conceptual and experimental innovation. “The real enemies of conceptual innovation are the establishment of fixed habits of thought”. Young achievers maybe more conceptual innovators while old masters tend toward more experimental work. Sustaining originality as we age and accumulate experience may necessitate a more experimental approach.

Coalitions and the “narcissism of small differences” require beginning from novelty with the addition of familiarity to ensure original ideas are judged as practical.
Birth order, as well as exposure to role models– real or fictional– impact awareness of niches that may never have existed, and foster originality.

“‘Shapers’ are independent thinkers: curious, non-conforming, and rebellious. They practice brutal, nonhierarchical honesty. And they act in the face of risk, because their fear of not succeeding exceeds their fear of failing… The greatest shapers don’t stop at introducing originality into the world. They create cultures that unleash originality in others.”

“Becoming original is not the easiest path in the pursuit of happiness, but it leaves us perfectly poised for the happiness of pursuit”.

Shoe Dog: A memoir by Phil Knight

A memoir by the creator of Nike, Shoe Dog is a captivating read and a must read for anyone who wants to understand the really messy process of taking an innovative idea to market and building a successful business around it.

An honest and compelling read, Knight keeps readers engrossed in the journey through the 400 pages of the book.

This is not a “how to”, but a ringside view of an entrepreneur’s journey and a reminder that with persistence and grit (and little else) you can set out to achieve any dream.

In an interview with abc news, Phil was asked what he has to say to a young entrepreneur.

He says, “I think there’s a couple things that if you’re going to be an entrepreneur you better be prepared for: long hours and a lot of dark moments. And, I guess that’s one thing that is shown in the book… and I think you really have to have a passion about it… and have a reason to succeed. It isn’t just something you want to be. But you have to have a niche and a passion. You need those two things.”

Pithy with thought provoking quotes, the book is an easy read. What he puts down as prescient and probably the only advice that anyone should give, is a greta “mantra” to live by: “Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where “there” is. whatever comes, just don’t stop.”

Adding a few snippets and quotes here from the book:

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

“You are remembered… for the rules you break.”

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few. “—Shunryu

“Life is growth. You grow or you die.”

“There were many ways down Mount Fuji, according to my guidebook, but only one way up. Life lesson in that, I thought.”

“The art of competing,… is the art of forgetting… You must forget your limits. You must forget your doubts, your pain, your past. And when it’s not possible to forget it, you must negotiate with it”.

“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

“Sometimes knowing when to give up, when to try something else, is genius. Giving up doesn’t mean stopping. Don’t ever stop.”

“It’s never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad.”

“Fight not to win, but to avoid losing. A surefire losing strategy.”

“I had an aching sense that our time is short, shorter than we ever know, shorter as a morning run, and I wanted mine to be meaningful. And purposeful. And creative. And important. Above all… different.”

“There’s kind of exuberant clarity in that pulsing half second before winning and losing are decided.”

“Fear of failure, I thought, will never be our downfall as a company. No that any of us thought we wouldn’t fail; in fact we had every expectation that we would. But when we did fail, we had faith that we’d do it fast, learn from it, and be better for it.”

His obsession with his shoe idea started while he was still s student at Stanford. And, by his own admission, a room full of scholars remained unmoved by his idea. He kept at it and borrowed the money needed to start his business from his reluctant father. His obsession with shoes on his journey across the world seems amusing– but should give us pause. That is probably the kind of fixation that one needs to chart a course.

His disbelief at Michelangelo’s misery while painting the Sistine Chapel and his observation, “If even Michelangelo didn’t like his work, I thought, what hope is there for the rest of us?” rings true, especially in this day and age, when the workforce seems disillusioned by the nature of work.

The book is a reminder that a journey– any journey– must have its pros and cons. And it exhorts its readers to seek their “calling”.

“If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”

All in all, a recommended read for anyone who has an entrepreneurial inclination and is looking for a guide book of sorts as they traverse this terrain.

Mentors and Mentoring Mantra

Mentoring, according to Merriam-Webster, is to give advice and instruction to (someone) regarding the course or process to be followed.

Seen as a trusted counselor or guide, a mentor is one who, because he is detached and disinterested, can hold up a mirror to us.

The original Mentor was from Homer’s Odyssey, set in Greece. Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, grew up under the supervision of his trusted friend, Mentor. When the goddess Athena decided it was time to complete the education of young Telemachus, she visited him disguised as Mentor and they set out together to learn about his father.

In today’s environment, as the definition and nature of the workforce changes, and as the gig economy takes shape, the passing on of meaningful advice will need to shift from official channels to more informal routes.

Mentoring Mantra seeks to fill a few of the gaps by bringing on-board a series of individual views from available mentors, as well as summaries of readings and learnings from our contributors.

If you’d like to write for us, or share your advice as a mentor, do drop us a note with a summary and we will get back in touch.