Book Review: “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World”


“To explain this peculiar phenomenon, Jost’s team developed a theory of system justification. Its core idea is that people are motivated to rationalize the status-quo as legitimate.”

We’ll begin there.

I have never been one to accept the status-quo as a reasonable reality, in any situation.

Granted, the status-quo has its usefulness: it provides stability through groupthink, and entire institutions have been built upon the status-quo to support the principles and ideologies which turn the (very slow and broken) wheels of progress.

Where would we be if we didn’t have the status-quo of “workplace attire”?  Would East Coast banking institutions have the same credibility if they did not require their employees to dress professionally in a gray fitted suit? Agree or disagree with dress codes, but they are put in place to provide the environment with a familiar, safe and stable culture through which individuals can work as colleagues.

Similarly, artists are taken more seriously if they arrive at the studio in more creative, relaxed apparel. It doesn’t make any sense arriving to your workbench dressed in slacks when you are just going to get paint/clay/sweat on you during the day.

Like it or not, there is a time and a place for everything, and everything has a different time and place.

However, the status-quo can work against people in constrained environments.

As Matt Wagner puts it, “Internally, the impact of the status quo is a stagnant culture that pushes away top performers. Your best employees are driven by the need to do something great. When they run into obstacles that don’t make any sense to them, they start thinking about greener pastures. Of course, the opposite is true of your bureaucrats and your go-along-to-get-along employees. They hope to milk the status quo for as long as possible. They hate change.”

So, what do you do if you thrive on change.

How do you survive in an environment that refuses to hear alternative methods.

What does a person do when they are faced with a reality which presents obstacle after obstacle of stifling conformity, blatant unwillingness to adapt to disruptive innovations, and stand firmly rigorous in bureaucracy?

Sure, some crazy people might jump ship. That is definitely the easy way out.

Others build a better reality.

Others, like Originals.

I was sold on this book by just the title, alone. Once I started devouring the contents, I’m sad it is only 257 pages. This book is so densely packed with information, experiments, sidenotes, observations and conclusions…you are just hit in the face with situation after situation where people are succeeding, failing, or learning.

I love it.

My favorite chapter is 4, “Fools Rush In: Timing, Strategic Procrastination, and the First-Mover Disadvantage.”

This chapter is mostly about start-ups, which I love.

But the questions it asks in this section revolve mostly around “when.” “When do you take original action? When you’re preparing to row agaist the tide, you have choices about whether to start at the crack of dawn, wait until midday, or hold off until twilight. My goal here is to overturn common assumptions about timing by examining the unexpected benefits of delaying, when we start and finish a task, as well as when we unleash our ideas into the world.”

I am a person chock full of ideas. I have ideas brimming over the cup and coming out my nose. I can stay awake all night just coming up with ideas, and then rabbit trails off those ideas on how to improve the original idea, and conquer the world.

Which can make me a little more on the impulsive side…and I beat that force down with all the strength I can muster. For the greater good.

So, the qualitative notion that planned procrastinating can actually benefit your cause, rather than kill it, was an incredible idea. For example, one scientist they interviewed “used procrastination as a form of incubation to stave off a premature choice of a scientific problem or solution. Often when I am procrastinating, I really have something on the back burner and I need the time to work it through…some ideas just need time to mature.”

I have fleets of things on the back burner, so this new definition of procrastination was delightful. Instead of being a slacker and just ignoring the problem, sometimes a problem needs time to ferment and become something bigger…something more structured and more hearty than the original concept.

There is also the differing concepts of Young Geniuses, and Old Masters.

Young Geniuses are the superstars of history. Einstein published his revolutionary paper in his midtwenties. Mozart wrote his concertos in his youth. The Beat Poets changed the course of literature and poetry in their 20s. And here am I, 38, and I have one book to my name.

Fortunately for the rest of us mortals, Old Masters are highly respected, as well.

Robert Frost wrote his greatest poems after 40. Hitchcock made his most popular films in his 50s and 60s.

The difference between these two types of geniuses, is the young are generally “conceptual innovators,” focused on big ideas; the older are experimental innovators, keen to solve problems across the course of their lives. “Conceptual innovators are sprinters, and experimental innovators are marathoners…innovation can be done quickly, because it doesn’t require years of methodical investigation…experimental innovation can require years, or decades, to accumulate the requisite knowledge and skill, and it becomes more sustainable source of originality.”

This is a relief for me, who is taking learning and creating through the length of my life. I’m not slow, I’m just pacing myself!

All in all, every page in every chapter was fascinating.

If you love the information and analysis of Malcolm Gladwell, and are fascinated with how people work, and how things work, and how things fail, and how people succeed…

you will love this book.

Go buy it-Amazon.