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Novel Solutions: Color Outside the Lines

If cartoons have taught me anythi… Wait a minute. Of the many lessons I’ve learned from cartoons, one concept that’s clear is inspiration strikes quickly. The light bulb goes on above your head and the great idea seems so simple.

In “Originals,” Adam Grant argues, while such lightning strikes may happen, they aren’t as common as people think. His take on “how non-conformists move the world,” as the book’s subtitle reads, examines in depth what goes into these memorable innovations. Using social science studies combined with telling anecdotes, Grant tries to combat the common misconception that ground-breaking advances are somehow a result of fate. Rather, achievement is the result of hard work, character and, more often than not, previous failures.

The most resonant message of “Originals” focuses on how organizations can excel by fostering creativity and nonconformity in its individuals. These lessons are also the most applicable for managers and executives. Grant’s critical examination of platitudes like “thinking outside the box” is enlightening in distinguishing between lip-service and real strategy. Commitment to the cause is important; groupthink is destructive.

Attention is paid to improving one’s own ability to foster and harness originality. In this, “Originals” can be an interesting work that forces the reader to examine thought processes and actions. Grant dives into what goes into becoming an effective risk-taker, which includes less glamorous things like research and hedging. It also takes work, which is evidenced by describing how many failures were left in Thomas Edison’s wake, for example. We remember his successes, but the hundred of patents that fill filing cabinets show it’s not only about quality. The best idea cannot be the only idea.

Grant’s stories about Jackie Robinson and Steve Jobs are delivered in novel fashion, even if the cliffhanger delivery relies a bit too much on a final reveal. But for those in the business, specifically metalcasting, this book does more to improve performance at the office than elsewhere.

A professor at the Wharton School of Business, Grant writes with an ease and authority that makes “Originals” readable. The book hopes to foster creativity in the name of advancement. To that end, it delivers a few lessons worth learning—at least as many as you’ll glean from Tom & Jerry reruns.

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