Sunday, March 12, 2017

Book Club Discussion Questions For "Originals" By Adam Grant

Source: Adam Grant

Adam Grant's book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, has vaulted to the top of best-seller lists since its publication last year. The book is a fascinating study of creativity, imagination, ingenuity, and success. It examines the conditions and case studies of standout individuals who embody vision and entrepreneurship. As a top-rated Wharton professor in organizational dynamics, Grant is a leading voice in studying what makes historical and contemporary figures unique in their influences.

Source: ASIDE 2017
Recently, our school held its annual Colloquium evening. Here, parents, teachers, alumni, and staff came together for a night of food and conversation to share ideas as adults. Like a book club, the Colloquium each year picks a thought-provoking publication to inform small-group exchanges. This year, we read Originals, and we were lucky enough to have Adam Grant himself phone in to our gathering to answer questions and inspire our audience.

We were surprised, however, in searching the Internet, to find very few discussion questions centered on the book. We wrote our own list of questions, both for the small-group conversations and for the author himself. We wanted to share our list, in case any book clubs or schools out there are reading Grant's terrific book about self-expression and innovation.

Essential Question:

  • “The last time you had an original idea, what did you do with it?” Did you “speak up and stand out”? Why or why not? (p. 13)

Source: Adam GrantArts Wisconsin


Discussion Questions:


  1. After reading the book, do you see yourself as either “creative” or “original”? Why or why not?
  2. Adam Grant has his own definition of originality: “introducing and advancing an idea that’s relatively unusual within a particular domain, and that has the potential to improve it.” Do we have our own personal definitions of what it means to be “original”? (p. 3)
  3. Do you think your current job or life role allows you to be creative? To be original? Why or why not?
  4. Overall, did you feel that Adam Grant laid out a strong roadmap for originality, looking to the past for examples and to the future for methodologies?
  5. Why do so many of us automatically accept the “default” options in life instead of engaging in research and making informed decisions for ourselves?
  6. What do you think of Adam Grant as a writer, with his mix of narrative voice and scientific scholarship, and his interweaving of examples?
  7. What did you learn from this book?
  8. Which of the “Actions For Impact” in the last chapter did you find the most helpful? Which (if any) are you thinking of trying?
  9. Adam Grant suggests that procrastination can actually help entrepreneurs build companies that last. How does society view procrastination? How can teachers or parents find ways to reward thoughtful, deliberate, and strategic procrastination?
  10. Does a person have to be an “informed optimist” to be creative and/or original? Do pessimists make poor change-makers? (p. x)
  11. How much “borrowing” is allowed before a dynamic and change-making idea becomes successful but not necessarily “original”?
  12. How can we apply the phenomenon of “vuja de” to our own lives – seeing something familiar with a fresh perspective? (p. 7)
  13. Are there other examples of people who enacted change by becoming “curious about the dissatisfying defaults” in our society? (p. 8)
  14. “Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.” How does this statement inform our jobs as parents and teachers? (p. 8)
  15. Do you agree that achievement crowds out originality? Because it brings a dread of failure?
  16. In the end, after reading all of the anecdotes in the book, do you think originals crave risk or prefer to avoid it?
  17. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Sarick Effect? Where else in life might it be useful to start with the open admission of one’s weaknesses? Where might such a strategy be harmful?
  18. How do we take into account the inherent difficulties and errors in self-assessment? Seventy percent of high school seniors rate themselves as above average in leadership skills, and 94 percent of college professors think they are doing above average work. How many of us view our children or ourselves as above average? Why? (p. 33)
  19. How do you feel about Adam Grant’s note regarding the greater historical number of “creative” accomplishments made by men as compared to women? Is it a matter of time / freedom / access to producing a greater volume of output? Or is it a matter of “speaking while female”? (p. 37, 85)
  20. If peer evaluations provide the most reliable judgments of new ideas, how can we be more open to genuine feedback?
  21. How do you feel about the notion of “idiosyncrasy credits,” built up by “quirky” individuals to justify their creativity and earn them respect? (p. 67)
  22. “Younger brothers were 10.6 times more likely than their older siblings to attempt to steal a base.” How do we think about risk-taking and risk aversion in our own lives? In our children’s lives? (p. 150)
  23. Do you agree that praising character rather than behavior is the ideal strategy?
  24. If “groupthink is the enemy of originality,” how can we avoid that trap in a culture that increasingly emphasizes collaboration and teamwork? (p. 176)
  25. Do you agree that “dissenting opinions are useful even when they’re wrong”? (p. 185)
  26. Is originality just creativity plus action?
  27. Do you agree that “no one has the right to hold a critical opinion without speaking up about it”? (Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates, p. 190)
  28. Does your current life include “critical upward feedback”? Would you like it to? (p. 203)
  29. Do you agree that the better personal mantra is “I am excited” as opposed to “I am anxious”? (p. 216)
  30. Raise your hand: Do you use Internet Explorer or Safari as your web browser? Do you feel more linear or patterned than Chrome or Firefox users? (p. 5)
  31. What are some ways to take extreme risk in one arena and offset it with extreme caution in another?
  32. Let’s talk about Seinfeld: Was it really original? Or just different? Or just smart? Are these the same things?
  33. How do you feel about “The Positive Power Of Negative Thinking”? (p. 212)

Source: Adam Granti.ytimg.com

Author Questions:


  1. In your book you talk a lot about risk-taking and potential failure – that achievement can crowd out originality because it brings a dread of failure. For us as teachers and parents, how can we assuage our children’s fear of failure in a culture that still values A+’s and college admissions?
  2. Since Originals was published, have you come across any new people or companies that you wish you could have included in your book?
  3. Schools by their nature are in the business of assessment. Can you give us any guidance in how to negotiate the inherent problems with self-assessing, for students and teachers, knowing the research that says most people think of themselves as “above average”?
  4. You quote one of your former students, Justin Berg, as finding that, on average, “women make better creative forecasts than men.” Could you tell us more about this idea? How does it fit with the other interesting notes in your book regarding the greater number of “creative” accomplishments made by men as compared to women?
  5. You write convincingly about the importance of peer evaluations in providing the most reliable judgments and the most helpful feedback about new ideas. Do you have any suggestions about how parents can apply this model to their daily lives? Or how teachers can do the same?
  6. We liked your notion of “idiosyncrasy credits” in explaining why some people are afforded the respect to introduce new ideas, to deviate from expectations. Would you mind telling us more about this idea? Is it something we should all be trying – to be more idiosyncratic?
  7. We were surprised to read that procrastination can actually help entrepreneurs build companies that last. It’s somewhat different from the message we often instill in our children, about advance planning. Are there ways that you recommend for teachers or parents to reward or encourage thoughtful and deliberate procrastination?
  8. In thinking about writers, entrepreneurs, artists, and inventors, how much “borrowing” do you think is allowed before a dynamic and change-making idea becomes successful but not necessarily “original”?
  9. Do you have any suggestions about how we can we apply the phenomenon of “vuja de” to our own lives – seeing something familiar with a fresh perspective?
  10. You talk about the notion that “groupthink is the enemy of originality.” How can we avoid that trap in a culture that increasingly emphasizes collaboration and teamwork?
  11. You rightfully note that many “originals” never act on their ideas. They conceive of bold or innovative notions, but they never act on them. What do you think holds them back? In other words, why some but not others?
  12. “Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.” This was a particularly interesting line from your book. Do you have a sense of how this statement can inform our jobs as parents and teachers?
  13. Could you tell us a little bit about what you are working on for your next project?
  14. Out of all the organizations and individuals that you highlight in your book, is there one that stands out in your mind as being particularly unique it its story or its embodiment of a truly original mindset?
  15. Okay, finally – let’s talk about Seinfeld. We here are New Yorkers, so of course we agree with your praise of the show. But after reading your book, we wonder:  Was Seinfeld really “original”? Or was it just different? Or was it just smart? Are these the same things? How can we distinguish between those similar but different concepts of achievement?
Many thanks to Adam Grant for his generous time in speaking to us during our Colloquium evening. Also, we want to credit Natasha Chadha (@MsChadha92) for her terrific ideas in helping to draft these discussion questions. Finally, we want to thank Dolly Chugh (@DollyChugh) and Stefani Rosenthal (@StefRosenthal) for their leadership in staging such a successful Colloquium evening.

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