Leaders Library: Moving the World by Being an Original Thinker

Harry S. Truman said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Our Leaders Library series gives me the opportunity to share the books and articles that I think are worth your attention. I would love for this to spark an interactive conversation – the Front and Centered version of a virtual book club!

My fifth book of the year, Adam Grant’s Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, was excellent. It was a little meaty, but worth every second. It’s about being a trailblazer, going against the grain, bucking the system – things that sound great, but require tremendous personal investment, persistence and courage.Banks-Blog-Quote_06_27_16

Let’s be honest, most people accept the status quo because changing can be exhausting, and in some instances, feels career limiting. But it’s a necessary part of creative destruction and innovation. The author argues that anyone can make a difference and we need people who are willing to make a difference because they move the world forward.

Pursuing something better

The first chapter starts with a quote by George Bernard Shaw that energized me:

“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.”

I love that. I started out being a reasonable man. My brother, he is a rebel; the “unreasonable man.” I always admired that in him. I don’t think a lot of people understood or accepted his questioning and continuous pursuit of something better. He was a man before his time, but that never bothered him. He willingly accepted that role and his intellect and personality allowed him to survive and flourish as the “unreasonable man.”

When my mother passed and my father had to go to work in another state for a few years, my brother raised me. During that time, he gave me that edge. Like my father, he reinforced the idea of respect. He taught me to respect everyone, but challenge everything. But, more importantly, he taught me how to do it with a smile while showing respect for the past, not ridiculing it!

Striving for unreasonableness

Having the courage to be consistently unreasonable is not always easy. When I graduated college, I needed to make a living. By then, both my father and mother had passed away. In my mind, I had to be reasonable. I needed a job to support myself and I did not have the courage to start my own business. I don’t think I was unusual in that regard.

Most people feel they need to be reasonable in order to keep their jobs. They need the work and the pay so they are going to follow the rules, even if they know they need changing. Leadership tip: If you want a bit of “originals” in your culture, you can start by making sure your culture provides a safe space for those employees willing to be “unreasonable.”

In the early days of my own career, I may have portrayed the reasonable man. As a leader, I encourage my team to take chances and embody the traits of unreasonable thinking. I have always tried to create a team culture where people could think differently, act differently and feel safe doing it. I think that came from watching my brother take a stand and meeting leadership resistance. Very few leaders created a space for him to flourish and make the world a better place.

Being original

After reading Grant’s book, I began to really question whether I was doing enough. What could I pull from the book to keep my team innovating and growing? What could I teach my kids about being “original” while they are still young, impressionable and open-minded enough to try? The book is rich with ideas, but here are a few that truly stuck with me:

  • Appetite for risk: You need to be a risk taker, but you do not need to take radical risks. Most entrepreneurs do not quit their day job until they see an idea take off. For example, Phil Knight, co-founder and Chairman of Nike, Inc., started selling shoes from his car in 1964. While selling shoes, he worked as an accountant until 1969.
  • Probability: Play the numbers. The volume of ideas improves the chances of being successful. Think about many small experiments along the path to “the big one” – most big innovations start out as someone’s small experimental idea in the beginning.
  • Passion: Believe and don’t give up the drive. Not just about the idea, but the desire to commercialize and bring the idea to market.
  • Communicate: More, not less. The idea may be well understood by you, but it is the first time others are hearing it, and you will likely have a lot of those “first-time” conversations. You need to build awareness on the topic, even if you have been thinking and working on it for a while. Exposure increases likeability.
  • Procrastinate: Slow, gradual procrastination improves the chances of success. I have to admit, I hate this one. But the book may have given me new perspective on the value of moderate procrastination. It opens your mind to other ideas, instead of settling in early. Maybe I need to give the procrastinators in my life (my son and my wife) some credit. Come to think of it, they are definitely more creative than me.

So the final word: I recommend the book. I think it could be viewed as controversial, or at least goes against the grain of conventional thinking in life and business. But we need that to motivate our people and move our businesses forward. I guarantee it will at least make you stop and consider whether there is room for more acceptable, unreasonable behavior in your business culture, and how it could drive future growth.

I will end with a question for you: When was the last time you had an original idea, and what did you do with it and why?