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Going Out on a Limb | Lessons from Adam Grant's Originals | #VUHRDOneBook

Have you ever had a great idea, one you know will improve a product or process or revolutionize the way your organization does business, but no one seems to listen? You shout louder and louder about the idea (metaphorically shouting, of course) but still, no one is interested. Instead, people start wondering what is wrong with you that you push so fervently against the way things have always been done. This is the risk of being an original and going out on a limb. Sometimes even the best ideas are met with resistance and those who champion them are ostracized instead of praised. In Chapter 3 of Adam Grant’s Originals, he teaches us how to reduce the risks of speaking up for change or in favor of new ideas.

Speaking Truth to Power: Maybe Earn Their Respect First

Grant points out that while most leaders appreciate employees who take initiative to offer help, all too often offering suggestions is seen as a negative for employees who have not first earned "status" in the eyes of their managers or peers. While power involves control and authority, status is simply respect. If you are trying to champion a new idea in an organization but have not yet earned the respect of your peers, they may perceive your efforts as coercive or self-serving. To explain this, Grant quotes Francis Ford Coppola, an iconic filmmaker:“The way to come to power is not always to merely challenge the Establishment, but first make a place in it and then challenge.”


“The way to come to power is not always to merely challenge the Establishment, but first make a place in it and then challenge.”

--Francis Ford Coppola


Build on Idiosyncrasy Credits

According to psychologist Edwin Hollander, idiosyncrasy credits are “the latitude to deviate from the group’s expectations.” While norms typically guide behavior in groups and organizations, idiosyncrasy credits allow unique members in that group to deviate from those norms. But, as Grant explains, these “accrue through respect, not rank: they’re based on contributions. We squash a low-status member who tries to challenge the status quo, but tolerate and sometimes even applaud the originality of a high-status star.” The lesson? If you want to buck the norms, make sure you earn the respect of those who follow them; if not, they will take your resistance as opposition rather than thoughtful originality.

Put Your Worst Foot Forward

While it may sound counter intuitive, Grant teaches us that it can be useful when championing a new idea to lead with the downside. If you have any sales experience, you are probably thinking, “there is no way that will work.” A sales pitch is supposed to be filled with all the great things about a product or idea--not the opposite. However, as Grant points out, no one wants to feel like they are being sold: “If you are pitching a novel idea or speaking up with a suggestion for change, your audience is likely to be skeptical,” however, changing how you frame the idea can change how it is perceived. You may become more trustworthy as you acknowledge the limitations of your own idea.

In this chapter, Grant gives several other ways original thinkers can lessen the risk of championing their new ideas. What were your biggest takeaways from this chapter? #VUHRDOneBook


Bethany J. Adams, MA is an Assistant Director in the Graduate HRD program at Villanova University. Learn more about her here!

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