Many would like to be original but often are afraid to be original. This is because while many dream of carving out their own path they worry about how they will be perceived by others. It is possible to be an original and to be a success though. In fact, you could argue that to truly carve out your own path and do something special you need to do something different. After all, if you do what everyone else does then you are just going to get what everyone else has right? Originality is often the basis for creating something unique. Those with original ideas usual come up with them through independent and critical thinking. They develop their own style and their own voice which leads them to think differently. But how can you do this? This is the premise of the book “Originals” by Adam Grant. So, what can we learn from it?

Originality is key to career success

Did you know something as simple as the internet browser that you use at work can indicate how successful you will be? This is because originality is not just about the need to do something big and disrupt the status quo. At its core, originality is about taking the initiative to do something different to get a better outcome. Economist Michael Housman discovered this when researching why a percentage of customer service employees outperformed their colleagues. When conducting the research, he found a very surprising link between those that thrived with the company over the long term and those who installed additional internet browsers. He discovered that this simple action led to a 15% difference between those who thrived long term and those that didn’t. When he dug deeper, he discovered that those who installed additional browsers were more likely to take the initiative. Most employees just used whatever tools and processes they were provided with. But a small group of employees (those who thrived long term) took the initiative to find better ways of working. So, if they had looked for a faster browser, it was likely that they were also looking for more efficient ways to work in other aspects of their work too. This naturally led to them performing at a higher level.

Quantity leads to quality

When we think of originality, we often think of unique moments of inspiration followed by that “Eureka” moment. Everyone knows the story of Newton and the Apple Tree for example. But this time of moment is incredibly rare. The best ideas are often the result of quantity and not quality. For example, Picasso created over 2800 ceramics, 1800 paintings, 1200 sculptures and more than 12000 drawings and this doesn’t include all of the drafts and versions that were not made public. The same could be said of other great Artists. Beethoven and Mozart also wrote roughly 1300 pieces between them. Only a small percentage of their work gave these 3 icons their success and status as all time greats. The quality of their work was incredible, but it was incredible because the volume of their work allowed them to improve their chances of creating such quality.

Procrastination can be good

We have all been told that putting things off until the last minute is bad, but research has actually been proven that among “originals” it is actually a good thing. There is actually a psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik effect. The phenomenon, which is named after Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, describes the way that our mind stays open to new ideas and insights, even after we attempt to finish a task and give up. This means that subconsciously our mind is actually working to complete the task even while we have stopped working on it to do something else. Leonardo da Vinci is an example of one of history’s greatest procrastinators. He began painting the Mona Lisa in 1503, then abandoned the project before returning to it many years later and finally completed in 1519, 16 years later! Historian William Pannapacker has said that he believes this allowed da Vinci to procrastinate in a calculated way, experimenting with optical illusions and new painting techniques. If he had not done this we may never have had the Mona Lisa.

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