‘Originals’: A Surprising Truth about Entrepreneurs

“Originality is not a fixed trait. It is a free choice.” – Adam Grant

When people think of entrepreneurs, they tend to see them as the ultimate risk-takers: people who unabashedly take a chance on something they believe in. People who enjoy going out on a limb, taking leaps into the unknown and thrive on uncertainty.

Originals book reviewBut, it isn’t necessarily so. In fact, entrepreneurs are more risk-averse – and much more calculated – than you think. The proof is in Adam Grant’s latest book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.

Utilizing data and studies from across industries, Grant shows how entrepreneurs are fueled less by risk and more by the opportunity to try something new, pursue a passion and see things in a new light.

This doesn’t mean that risk isn’t involved, Grant explains, only that it is offset with careful considerations, experimentation and back up plans.

“To become original, you have to try something new, which means accepting some measure of risk,” Grant writes. “But the most successful originals are not the daredevils who leap before they look. They are the ones who reluctantly tiptoe to the edge of a cliff, calculate the rate of descent, triple-check their parachutes, and set up a safety net at the bottom just in case.”

A great example of this comes from the online eyeglass maker Warby Parker, the founders of whom approached Grant in 2009 about becoming an early investor. But, because they weren’t working at their startup full time (they were students), Grant assumed they weren’t committed and declined the offer.

“They weren’t serious about becoming successful entrepreneurs,” writes Grant.” They didn’t have enough skin in the game. In my mind, they were destined to fail because they played it safe instead of betting the farm.”

He continues: “But in fact, this is exactly why they succeeded.” (As of April 2015, Warby Parker was valued at $1.2 billion and was named the world’s #1 most innovative company by Fast Company in 2015).

Just one example of many, Originals is well worth the read for anyone looking to leave a mark on the world – because as Grant encourages us all to see: anyone can.

Enjoy a few thought-provoking quotes from Adam Grant below:

1. “Originality is taking the road less traveled, championing a set of novel ideas that go against the grain but ultimately make things better.”

2. “The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists…[t]he starting point is curiosity: pondering why the default exists in the first place.”

3. “If you’re risk averse and have some doubts about the feasibility of your ideas, it’s likely that your business will be built to last. If you’re a freewheeling gambler, your startup is far more fragile.”

4. “When we become curious about the dissatisfying defaults in our world, we begin to recognize that most of them have social origins: Rules and systems were created by people. And that awareness gives us the courage to contemplate how we can change them.”

5. “The greatest presidents were those who challenged the status quo and brought about sweeping changes that improved the lot of the country. But these behaviors were completely unrelated to whether they cared deeply about public approval and social harmony.”

6. “The drive to succeed and the accompanying fear of failure have held back some of the greatest creators and change agents in history…[i]f a handful of people hadn’t been cajoled into taking original action, America might not exist, the civil rights movement could still be a dream, the Sistine Chapel might be bare, we might still believe the sun revolves around the earth, and the personal computer might never have been popularized.”

7. “In every domain, from business and politics to science and art, the people who move the world forward with original ideas are rarely paragons of conviction and commitment. As they question traditions and challenge the status quo, they may appear bold and self-assured on the surface. But when you peel back the layers, the truth is that they, too, grapple with fear, ambivalence, and self-doubt. We view them as self-starters, but their efforts are often fueled and sometimes forced by others. And as much as they seem to crave risk, they really prefer to avoid it.”

8. “Ultimately, the people who choose to champion originality are the ones who propel us forward…their inner experiences are not any different from our own. They feel the same fear, the same doubt, as the rest of us. What sets them apart is that they take action anyway. They know in their hearts that failing would yield less regret than failing to try.”

Please note: this post also appears on Treehouse Technology Group’s blog.