Are you Ready for the Originals?

The Chosen OneAdam Grant is a best-selling author and professor at Wharton who has spent years researching and interviewing what he terms “originals.” In one of my favorite books from 2016, How to Hire Trailblazers, Nonconformists and Originals, Grant describes these nonconformist thinkers as people who go their own way and have the best chance of driving innovation and moving a company forward. Here are a few of his key reasons why it’s so essential to hire originals:

  • To seed a resilient culture – “It’ll put you in a much better position to continue innovating, not only on a product or technology level, but all the decisions that go into running a company.”
  • To anticipate market movements – “You need originals to keep bringing fresh ideas that can challenge your current business model, your assumptions and your principles. That accelerates your ability to adapt to – or better yet, initiate – change, as opposed to getting caught by surprise.”
  • To repurpose dissent – To illustrate this idea, Grant describes the early stages at Pixar when Brad Bird was hired. Bird brought in all the disgruntled Pixar employees and “instead of ushering them to the door, Bird’s instinct was that they’d be so dissatisfied that they’d think in new ways and try ideas that hadn’t been considered. He supplied a tiny budget and set them free. The result was a new illustration technique that’d keep Pixar’s standard, but could be executed more quickly and at a fraction of the cost. The proof in the pudding was one of Pixar’s blockbuster hits: The Incredibles.”

Grant challenges us to change our thinking about “unsung heroes” and “insubordinates.” He also challenges us to think about people who have been fired from a company – and what many “inward-facing” innovators have done to turn their thinking toward their own teams, making a profound impact.

So how do you find your originals? Take a holistic approach and reframe the lens by which you evaluate leaders (leadership framework), assess competencies, hire/interview and reward performance. Start, in other words, by taking an original view on the enablers and roadblocks inherent in your company culture – and understand how that impacts these uniquely talented individuals who can truly drive innovation.

For an excellent, more detailed review of the book, here’s a great First Round Review article for your reading pleasure.

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at or on Twitter @sbPResults.