10 Quotes and Take-aways from "Originals" by Adam Grant

Originals Adam Grant.jpg

I really enjoyed this book.  The book clears up several misconceptions the reader may have about what it takes to be creative and successful.  For example. we typically think of the most successful people as having the most creativity when they're young, but Grant discusses others like Robert Frost, Mark Twain and Frank Lloyd Wright who really thrived when they were much older.  I think it's important that educators not only read great books directly about education, but branch out into other selections regarding success and social science like this one.  I would also highly recommend anything by Malcolm Gladwell.   

Here are ten quotes from the book and how I think the passage applies to teachers and/or administrators.  

p. 37 - “Across fields, Simonton reports that the most prolific people not only have the highest originality; they also generate their most original output during the periods in which they produce the largest volume [of work].”  

This section is a personal reminder to me to keep creating.  I have so many passions and it can be tough to focus on one project at a time.  But we live in a world where it’s easier to share creations than ever.  This also has implications in the classroom.  I want my students to have ample opportunities to create and share their work with the world, not just an audience of one.  I want them to feel like “originals” that have the chance to create things that have never been done before.  I don’t believe this type of mindset just applies to the arts, although I’m a huge proponent of those courses.  Our students need to have plenty of chances to develop creative work that shows they’ve learned in unique ways and that they’re proud to share with others.  They shouldn't leave school only proud because of grades.  

p. 95 - “Procrastination may be the enemy of productivity but it can be a resource for creativity.”

Grant relayed the interesting story of MLK’s “I have a dream” speech and how he was revising it up to the last minute.  Educators traditionally push for deadlines and frown upon late work.  Deadlines can be important, but if our students need an extra day to get an assignment done to the best of their ability, should we take points off?  What is the end goal, to push for deadlines or more thorough and true work?  If you have a week to accomplish something, some do their best work when attacking it immediately and others do better when waiting until later.  There are not only different types of learners but different styles of workers.   

p. 169 - “Affirming character appears to have the strongest effect in the critical periods when children are beginning to formulate strong identities.”

This forced me to re-think how I often talk to students with behavioral issues.  We need to continue to push for two changes in the classroom when we deal with student discipline. 

1) Focusing on the positive. 
2) Framing our statements in terms of student character, not behavior.   

Grant cites a study by psychologist Joan Grusec in which children who were praised in a way that addressed their character such as “I guess you’re the kind of person who likes to help others whenever you can” instead of “That was a nice thing to do.”  This had a more lasting effect on their future behavior.  When students see their behavior as a direct connection to their identity instead of just something that is connected to punishment or reward, this has a greater impact.  

p. 172 - “Growing up, many originals find their first heroes in their most beloved novels, where protagonists exercise their creativity in pursuit of unique accomplishments.”

There’s been a push in education for students to read more non-fiction work.  But we can’t get away from the power of fiction that students connect to, taps into their curiosity and encourages them to continue to be dreamers into adulthood.  When students come to us in elementary school they’re dreamers.  This shouldn’t be effectively knocked out of them by the time they leave high school.

p. 185 - “Dissenting opinions are useful even when they’re wrong.” 

Are you sitting in that meeting and you simply don’t agree?  Speak up.  Don’t just go along with what’s being said, especially if you don’t think it’s what’s best for students.

p. 198 - “To ensure that authentic dissenters voiced their viewpoints earlier, Bock’s team created the ‘Canaries’ — a group of trusted engineers across the company who represent diverse viewpoints and have a reputation both for being sensitive to adverse conditions and for speaking their minds.”  

Administrators: Do your schools have teachers that you know will tell you the real truth if you ask them a question about how things are going on at the school?  If you’re not getting real feedback, how can you improve your school for your stakeholders?

p. 203 - “I collect anonymous feedback from students after the first month, focusing on constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement, and then e-mail the full set of verbatim comments to the entire class.  In the next class session, I summarize what I thought were the key suggestions, seek feedback on my interpretations, and propose changes to address these issues.”

This is self-explanatory and has direct applicability to any classroom where we care about student opinions regarding our practices. 

p. 206 - “The more principles you have, the greater the odds that employees focus on different values or interpret the same values differently.” 

When the mission statement is too long, no one knows it.  More importantly, no one lives it. This can be a classroom, school, or district mission.  

p. 234 - “For the next two hours, the executives worked in groups, pretending to be one of Merck’s top competitors.  Energy soared as they developed ideas for drugs that would crush theirs and key markets they had missed.  Then, their challenge was to reverse their roles and figure out how to defend against these threats.”

How often does this happen in schools?  Do teachers and administrators talk about “that other school” and why more parents are sending their students there?  What makes your school or district truly stand out?  Have you gotten real feedback from students, parents, and the community on how to improve the school and acted on it?

p. 242 - “Research demonstrates that when we’re angry at others, we aim for retaliation or revenge.  But when we’re angry for others, we seek out justice and a better system.  We don’t just want to punish; we want to help.”

Finally, don’t focus on the negative.  Yes, standardized testing is a mess.  I'm more qualified than Betsy Devos to run our education department.  [But no I'm not qualified.]   Legislators at the state level have no idea what they're doing to our kids.  But don’t just fight against our systems. Fight for students every step of the way.  And never forget to share how great they are.