Lessons on communicating your creative ideas from Wharton Professor Adam Grant

Feb 23, 2016

Lessons on communicating your creative ideas from Wharton Professor Adam Grant

Feb 23, 2016

Does the world need more creative ideas, or more creative action? Are we lacking in imagination, or implementation?

Here’s a simpler question: do we need more books on how to be creative, or more books on how to make our creative ideas reality?

We lean toward the latter, and that’s why “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World,” is such a special book. It explains how to recognize creative ideas that will actually work, how to overcome personal and interpersonal issues that get in the way, and how to create cultures and relationships that foster and support new approaches. There’s also a good deal of research, some of it Grant’s own work, that analyzes why some people and organizations tend to be more effectively creative than others.

In Grant’s own words, “This book is like the sequel to creativity — it’s about how to champion new ideas.”

This practical approach should now be expected from Adam Grant, a 34-year-old professor of organizational psychology here in Philadelphia at The Wharton School. In his first book, “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success,” Grant didn’t simply say, “Do good and you’ll get ahead.” He acknowledged that nice guys finish last and first, depending on the specifics of their actions. Instead of offering one simple explanation and glossing over numerous examples to the contrary – as many authors do – he provided practical instructions for exercising good will in an effective way.

With the Feb. 2 release of Originals, he’s been hard to avoid lately, whether excerpting his ideas in The New York Times, talking to and writing for The Atlantic, or chatting with NPR. We went and saw his talk at The Free Library of Philadelphia on Feb. 3, two weeks before he spoke at TED2016.

Similarly, we’ve all probably had ideas for change, only to have them quashed by rigid hierarchies, close-minded cultures or our own fears of failure. Sometimes, it’s just bad timing. Grant addresses all those issues, providing stories of how others overcome those challenges, and even provides a guide at the end, called “Action for Impact,” that lists the recommendations he makes throughout the book.

This is certainly a book we’ll be sharing with our clients for some time to come. Here were some of our favorite ideas that we’ve already been talking about.

Sarah Promisloff

Vice President

Can anything truly be original? Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying, “There is no such thing as a new idea … we simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope.”

This idea is particular relevant to our team at Braithwaite, continually working to position the brands and companies we work with as distinctive, newsworthy and occupying a unique space of their own.

While Grant acknowledges that nothing is completely original, the book defines originality as “introducing and advancing an idea that’s relatively unusual within a particular domain, and that has the potential to improve it.” He uses the powerful stories of brilliant nonconformists around the world, to show that originals are not perfect people with perfect ideas – instead they are often overconfident risk takers who have the right combination of broad and deep experience.

In his chapter “Kissing Frogs,” we learn than many of the most brilliant originals did not hit the ball out of the park with every idea they came up with. In fact, consistent with all originals is the development of many, many ideas, many of which will flop! We learn that Shakespeare, known for a small number of classics, actually produced 37 plays and 154 sonnets, some of which are widely regarded as failures. From Mozart to Picasso, Grant explains that common to the most famous luminaries is the creation of a huge volume of work, much of which will never received acclaim.

The key however, is that every project, good or bad, leads to the invention of better, stronger ideas. It’s important for every business to remember this, as idea generation is never a wasted effort. I was inspired to read what we have believed all along – that the consistent generation of smart, different, creative, sometimes-controversial ideas can change the world.


Joe McIntyre

Senior Account Executive

No matter what chapter you read of Grant’s “Originals,” it’s impossible to read its pages and not see fragments of yourself as well as today’s political and socioeconomic landscape all throughout.

Cheers to you if you can take on a project, finish it early and have time at the end to spare. But for those of us who’ve worked to master the art of procrastination since we were finishing our elementary school science projects in the back seat of a bus on the way to school, Grant’s chapter on the first mover disadvantage provides us some solace. It’s not that the procrastinator is inherently better (we are) and those early finishers are always going to be less creative individuals, but rather completing a project often tells our brains to stop thinking so much about it. “But when it is interrupted and left undone, it stays active in our minds,” leaving more freedom to adjust and improve the project or idea. Maybe coffee pot talk to delay a project does make us more creative after all.

Equally as interesting was the chapter titled “Goldilocks and the Trojan Horse” about how to create and maintain coalitions. Not only can you clearly see why so many people are drawn to massive political personalities like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders by sifting through this chapter, but it provides a unique look at why it often requires a radical to start a cause, but a slightly more centrist view to complete it. Definitely worth referencing for businesses who want to start a movement, externally or internally.

Lee Procida

Lead Content Strategist

I immediately found Originals to be very useful because, in my opinion, many organizations aren’t lacking good ideas – they lack willingness to try something new. The viral, award-winning marketing campaigns we see out there aren’t typically special because they’re brilliant; they’re special because the people involved were able to get enough support to make their different ideas happen.

In terms of how leaders can better show support for new ideas, Grant details that it often simply comes down to listening. He cites examples from Warby Parker and the successful hedge fund Bridgewater in which radical openness to new ideas has led to dramatic business improvements over time. A lot of leaders pay lip service to wanting innovation, but it when it comes down to taking criticism or getting out of their comfort zone, they resist or reject change. To summarize the right approach, Grant provides a great quote from management scholar Karl Weick: “Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.”

Hopefully, the stories in Originals can inspire more businesses to take the risks necessary to go from average to awesome.


This article is part of our B On The Books series, in which Braithwaite staff explain their favorite ideas from the best business and marketing books. Read more in this series.

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