The Originals

I rarely come away from a book with some solid actionable insights but luckily for me this book had some stellar information and a solid data driven approach to viewing the power of original thinking.

A valuable cognitive strategy I learned from the book is called defensive pessimism which can be defined by wikipedia as:

"When implementing defensive pessimism, individuals set low expectations for their performance,
regardless of how well they have done in the past.

Defensive pessimists then think through specific negative events and setbacks that could adversely
influence their goal pursuits.  By envisioning possible negative outcomes, defensive pessimists
can take action to avoid or prepare for them. Using this strategy, defensive pessimists
can advantageously harness anxiety that might otherwise harm their performance."

Before I get into the actionable insights from the book let me point out the most shocking data table I saw in the book:

Artistic hobby Odds for Nobel Prize winners relative to typical scientist
Music: playing an instrument, composing, conducting 2x greater
Arts: drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpting 7x greater
Crafts: woodworking, mechanics, electronics, glassblowing 7.5x greater
Writing: poetry, plays, novels, short stories, essays, popular books 12x greater
Performing: amateur actor, dancer, magician 22x greater

In Adam Grant’s words

"Interest in the arts among entrepreneurs, inventors, and eminent
scientists obviously reflects their curiosity and aptitude. 
People who are open to new ways of looking at science and 
business also tend to be fascinated by the expression of ideas and emotions through
images, sounds, and words."

The personality trait most associated with an interest in the arts is called openness, the tendency to seek out novelty and variety in intellectual, aesthetic, and emotional pursuits

Without further adieu, the actionable items:

Individual actions:

  1. Question the default. The status quo is simply a construction of conventional thoughts, learn to distinguish between social conventions, fake stories, and the actual reality of the situation.

  2. Triple the number of ideas you generate. The vast majority of ideas are just wrong or should contain a penumbra of doubt. Get used to the creative process of ideation. It is the process of generating, developing, and communicating new ideas. Although I focus on generation, then once they’re all laid you can start testing them out against the real world.

  3. Immerse yourself in a new domain. “Who has not learned something more about themselves by watching the activities of others? To learn the sword study the guitar. To learn the fist study commerce. To just study the sword will make you narrow-minded and will not permit you to grow outward.” – Miyamoto Musashi, “A Book of Five Rings”

  4. Procrastinate strategically. Basically, you want to make sure you have time to chew things over, come back to them, engage in divergent thinking, and give ideas time to be fully gestated.

  5. Seek more feedback from peers. You are biased towards your own ideas, get a pool of feedback from trusted peers and believable characters you know. Opinion pooling is a fantastic source of disconfirming or confirming views on an idea, project, etc.

Voicing and Championing Original Ideas

  1. Balance your first portfolio. Your risk adjusted return should be thought of as a balancing act between weights. If you take lots of risk in one area of your life, make sure the others are more conservative. Here is more on risk adjusted return.

  2. Highlight the reasons not to support your idea. Why? If no other reason, people will probably trust you more because you aren’t being one of those psychotically positive camp counselors. 

  3. Make your ideas more familiar. Once someone is exposed to an idea enough to seems familiar and more likely to be accepted. I’ll be honest, I don’t feel like coming up with an example because this seems so obvious.

  4. Speak to a different audience. Try talking to more disagreeable people who share your methodology. Yes people are not helpful to battle testing an idea or product.

  5. Be a tempered radical. The term “Social Justice Warrior” exists for a reason, or that vegan that has to tell everyone why they’re vegan. Don’t be that person, people won’t listen anyways.

Managing emotions 11. Motivate yourself differently when you’re committed vs. uncertain. Committed–close the gap to the finish line. Uncertain–look at all that sweet progress. This isn’t a contradiction, but a perspective change.

  1. Don’t try to calm down. Reframe anxiety as interest or enthusiasm. Think about how you can challenge yourself and know that if things go wrong it won’t be so bad. I have been doing this a lot recently.

  2. Focus on the victim, not the perpetrator. Punitive actions won’t mend broken wounds or bring those we love back to life. Try to help those who have been harmed. The world does not need more hate filled people trying to punish those who have harmed them.

“Look, everyone! This is what hatred looks like! This is what it does when it catches hold of you! It’s eating me alive and very soon now it will kill me. Fear and anger only make it grow faster.” ~ Prince Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke.

  1. Realize you’re not alone. Two is better than one, find others who share your visions and solving your same problems.

“United with his fellow-men by the strongest of all ties, the tie of a common doom, the free man finds that a new vision is with him always, shedding over every daily task the light of love. The life of Man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach, and where none may tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent Death. Very brief is the time in which we can help them, in which their happiness or misery is decided.” ~Bertrand Russel, A Free Man’s Worship

  1. Remember that if you don’t take initiative, the status quo will persist. One I felt someone should stand up, and I then realized I was someone.

Leader Actions:

A. Sparking Original ideas

  1. Run an innovation tournament. Create a focused hub for ideas to solve a particular problem or meet an untapped need. Let the best ideas win and then give those people the resources to make it happen. Hackathons are a great example of this.

  2. Picture yourself as the enemy. Find threats, identify them, and then pursue them.

  3. Invite employees from different functions and levels to pitch ideas. Flat hierarchies, and letting ideas come from everywhere creates a fertile ground for ideas.

  4. Hold an opposite day. People choose different points of view or ideas that are taken from granted. “When is the opposite true?”

  5. Choose words that not visceral, so do NOT use: like, love, and hate. Get people to explain their reasoning.

B. Building Cultures of Originality

  1. Hire on cultural contribution, not “fit”. Think of a company as an immune system, it needs diversity to respond to many types of potential change and cover it’s bases.

  2. Shift from exit interviews to entry interviews. It explains itself.

  3. Ask for problems, not solutions. Bring together people on a monthly basis to review problems and figure out which ones are worth solving.

  4. The devil doesn’t need an advocate, unearth real advocates of the opposite. Dissenting opinions are powerful to either destroy or strengthen your solution, proposal, etc.

  5. Welcome criticism. Radical Candor

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