Adam Grant: Six Ways to be an ‘Original’ [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

February 16, 2017
Stanford eCorner
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Adam Grant: Six Ways to be an ‘Original’ [Entire Talk]

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In this video, Adam Grant discusses the importance of originality and how to build a culture that supports and fosters it. He shares key insights and lessons learned from his research on creativity and innovation.

Questions & Answers

Q: What inspired Adam Grant to study and promote originality?

Adam Grant was inspired to study and promote originality after witnessing an injustice in the workplace and deciding to speak up. This experience challenged his tendency to stay silent and conform, prompting him to explore ways to create organizations where speaking up was welcomed and originality thrived. He became an organizational psychologist, studying individuals he called "originals" and striving to follow in the footsteps of his role model, Bob Sutton.

Q: What is the first important lesson Adam Grant shares about building cultures of productive originality?

A: Grant believes that most originality dies in the idea selection process. Many great creative ideas that could change the world are not given a chance because there is a lack of people who can effectively evaluate and select which ideas to pursue. Grant highlights the work of a former student, Justin Berg, who studied the circus arts to understand how to know if an idea will take off. Berg found that peers were better than leaders and managers at judging ideas because they provided a more objective perspective and were invested in seeing new ideas succeed.

Q: Why are middle managers particularly bad at judging ideas?

Middle managers tend to be the worst at judging ideas because they rely heavily on intuition and past experience. They often get stuck in prototypes and compare new ideas to what has worked in the past. This creates a bias against original ideas that appear different. Middle managers also have skewed incentives, as rejecting a good idea goes unnoticed while betting on a bad idea can negatively impact their career. Grant suggests that managers should avoid relying solely on intuition and instead engage in brainstorming prior to judging ideas to maintain an open and receptive mindset.

Q: How can individuals manage anxiety when pitching their ideas?

Grant shares research on defensive pessimism, which shows that embracing anxiety and framing it as excitement can be a more effective way to manage anxiety. Defensive pessimism involves convincing oneself that they are going to fail, which then motivates them to work harder to prevent failure. This mindset can be harnessed when pitching ideas, as the anxiety of potential failure can lead to greater effort and more creative problem-solving. Grant suggests reframing anxiety as excitement and focusing on why one is excited about their idea to maintain motivation and manage anxiety.

Q: How can individuals improve their ability to pitch ideas effectively?

Grant emphasizes the importance of making the unfamiliar familiar when pitching ideas. He highlights the availability heuristic, which suggests that people assume something is important and common when it is easy to think of. By building bridges between unfamiliar ideas and existing concepts, individuals can make their ideas more relatable. Grant gives examples of reframing pitches for movies like "The Lion King" as "Hamlet with lions" and startups as the "Uber for X." He encourages individuals to spend time with people from diverse backgrounds to solicit feedback and find familiarity connections that resonate with different audiences.

Q: What is the significance of embracing weaknesses and flaws in pitching ideas?

Grant recounts the story of Rufus Griscom, an entrepreneur who successfully pitched his startup Babble by highlighting its flaws. By acknowledging weaknesses and being transparent about them, Griscom demonstrated his ability to critically evaluate his business and built trustworthiness and credibility. This approach also encourages investors and acquirers to actively participate in solving the identified problems, thus increasing their engagement and commitment. Grant suggests incorporating a similar approach when pitching ideas by openly addressing potential risks and limitations while highlighting the strengths and value proposition of the idea.

Q: How can hiring practices contribute to building a culture of originality?

Grant argues that hiring plays a significant role in building a culture that supports and fosters originality. He points out that founders' emphasis on culture fit in their hiring process leads to higher success rates and greater rates of going public. Hiring for culture fit ensures that individuals align with the organization's values and mission, making them more motivated and committed to achieving the company's goals. Grant suggests that hiring based on culture fit should be the top priority, as it creates a sense of shared purpose and commitment among employees.


Building a culture of productive originality requires effective idea selection, overcoming anxiety, mastering the art of repetition, embracing weaknesses in pitches, and hiring for culture fit. By recognizing the challenges and implementing these strategies, individuals and organizations can foster creative thinking, innovation, and ultimately drive success.

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