Review: Originals by Adam Grant

Throughout history, there have been extraordinary people who, in Wharton professor Adam Grant’s elegant phrase, “moved the world.” Grant calls these people “originals” because they are nonconformists who are unimpressed with the status quo and have the creativity and courage to forge and follow their own paths. As he explains in Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, originals can be inventors, entrepreneurs, authors and painters, leaders of political movements. Martin Luther King was an original. So was Leonardo Da Vinci, and so is Bill Gates.

Originals, however, are not just world-famous people who revolutionized their domains. Grant also tells the story of originals whose names would be unknown to most: Carmen Medina, the CIA employee who battled for years to finally incorporate the digital age into intelligence sharing; Rick Ludwin, the TV executive who, despite not working in the comedy department, championed a rejected sitcom by comedian Jerry Seinfeld; Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of a company who encouraged employees to send him memos such as the one that begins, “Ray, you deserve a ‘D’ for your performance today … It was obvious to all of us that you did not prepare at all …”

In Originals, Grant not only offers stories of great accomplishments but also dissects exactly how these accomplishments were achieved. He debunks the idea that originals are great risk-takers. Most of America’s founding fathers were reluctant revolutionaries. Martin Luther King writes that he was pushed into service as leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott before he had a chance to say “no.” Bill Gates eventually dropped out of college but only after first securing a leave of absence from the university and ensuring that his parents would support him. Originals, Grant argues, are more risk-mitigators than risk-takers.

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