Risk-takers, Originals and all of us

“The last time you had an original idea, what did you do with it?” Adam Grant

Originals QuoteWe’re still using yesterday’s models and hoping they will solve tomorrow’s challenges. That’s not impossible, but it will become increasingly unrewarding. The impending World Economic Forum’s Fourth Industrial Revolution will radically shift life as we know it. Technology will be at the core of most work, whatever form work will take. Digital transformation will make way for digital sustainability, and innovation hubs and heroes will only take you part of the way. End states and narrow, short-term profits are yesterday’s goals.

Yet some see and create worlds of opportunity amidst this rapid ‘chaos’. We assume these people are innately creative, natural-born natural leaders, or that people who have a larger purpose and impact in the world are ‘rare’. We ask what’s in their DNA so that we can identify with them, or we ask where we can find them, and how we can work with them to release our strategic visions and intent. We also ask “can we grow and develop them?”

Let’s ventilate this topic with fresh thinking. We are coming to learn that great creators aren’t necessarily ones with the most outlandish ideas, or the deepest expertise, but also those activating the broadest perspectives, acting at the right time, with the right people around them.

We have a picture of more radical risk-takers and innovators, called game changers, from 2015 research. And we understand more about the composition of the team that drives game changing outputs. Now we also know, thanks to Adam Grant’s work ‘Originals’, that not all originality requires extreme risk taking. “I want to persuade you”, he says, “that originals are actually far more ordinary than we realise.” Grant defines originals as people who take the road less traveled, championing novel ideas that go against the grain but ultimately make things better.

Why should this be significant? Because all of us can learn to be Originals.

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest many entrepreneurs are just ‘ordinary’, with the same fears and the same doubts as all of us. The best entrepreneurs, says Linda Rottenberg, are not risk maximisers. They take the risk out of risk taking.  They don’t like risk any more than the rest of us. They take calculated and measured risks, balancing their portfolios. Rottenberg is CEO of Endeavour, and has spent decades training many of the worlds great entrepreneurs. She is known as “la chica loca” (the crazy girl) for insisting that entrepreneurs existed not just in Silicon Valley but also in emerging markets around the world. Even when extreme risks are taken in one area, it seems they are balanced with caution in another.

Those who champion originality, rather than conformity, move us forward. And they are not so different from most us of us, says Grant. They appear bold and confident on the outside, but inside, they are also afraid of risk and avoid it. Originals start by questioning default positions, and then take calculated risks. All of us can learn to be Originals. As Sheryl Sandberg notes in her Forward to the book:

“… any one of us can champion ideas that improve the world around us.”

Crossing the Chasm: From Innovation Hub or Hero To Innovation as Usual – How do we get it right? was the focus session delivered at the recent 2017 Talent Talks Africa Conference.

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