4 Characteristics of Original People

Originally published March 28, 2017 by The Montrose Daily Press 

Editor’s note: This article is part two of a three-part series highlighting the most meaningful ideas I discovered at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.

“Idea” is a special word.

It represents promise and mystery. Everything you’re touching and is touching you, everything man-made in this world is the result of someone’s idea. An idea they developed, vetted and shared.

While at SXSW, I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Adam Grant. I’d never heard of Grant prior, however, the information he shared was some of the best I’ve had the pleasure of consuming. Wikipedia says: “Grant has been Wharton’s top-rated professor for five straight years. He has been recognized as one of the world’s 25 most influential management thinkers and the world’s 40 best business professors under 40.” 

Let’s look at four characteristics of original people according to Grant:

· Originals are risk adverse

· Originals get past idea generation into idea selection

· Originals admit their weakness

· Originals hire differently

Most successful companies were founded by people who kept their full time job and hustled on the side until they felt like it was safe to leave. Originals manage risk like a stock portfolio; refusing to put all their eggs in one idea basket. Founders of companies with this type of mentality are 33 percent more likely to be successful than those who quit their day job at the first sign of success.

Phil Knight, founder of Nike, worked for many years as an accountant before he finally felt it safe to make the jump. For more on this, I highly recommend his book, “Shoe Dog” to anyone who loves business, running, or gripping memoirs.

Originals are those who not only capture the idea, but also get past the generation phase into idea selection. Grant suggests making a list of your favorite ideas (for anything you’re trying to solve or create); ranking them from your favorite to least favorite. Generally speaking, the second idea on your list is going to be the golden ticket. You won’t be able to see your first favorite idea with any objectivity. You’re too close to it to see its fatal flaws.

Once you have your idea polished and ready to show the world, it is time to carefully select your review panel. Talk to people who are not steeped in the domain you are stuck in. If you are in banking and you talk to other bankers, their perspective may be too close to yours. This could get you the answer you want to hear, but not the one you need to hear. Seek out peers who will give you honesty as well as support.

After refining your idea in the peer review process, it becomes time to present it to the world at large. Weather this be your boss, investors, or your team at work, historically this is where many ideas go to die.

Here’s an exercise for you: Next time you’re with another person, sing your favorite song in your head. Next, clap the rhythm of the song to your partner and see if they can guess the song. Unless you’re the 1% of people smart enough to clap “We Will Rock You” that exercise generally turns out in failure. Compare this process to the ideas in your head. You can hear the rhythm beautifully and you’ve thought of everything. However, you must consider the person you’re presenting to has never heard the melody. The first time you present your idea, it might come out a lot like the clapping exercise. You have to find a way to translate the beautiful music you’re hearing into language someone else can understand. Don’t give up.

Originals admit their weakness. Often when we have an idea, we already know its weak points. Our tendency is to cover those and brush over them as though they do not exist. Let’s give our audience a little more credit than that. Instead, try leading with three reasons why your idea won’t work. It is transparent and shocking, and you may find they respond back by ideating on solutions to why your idea WILL work despite those things.  

You can try this in job interviews or cover letters as well. Why not lead with “Here’s why you shouldn’t hire me.” Or when asked about your greatest weakness, be honest. We’ve all heard the answer “Sometimes I work too hard and I’m too dedicated to my work.” No thank you.  Be real. I’ve yet to meet a perfect person or a perfect idea. These imperfections are the flavor in an otherwise bland world.

Speaking of hiring, originals hire differently. Ever heard the saying “you’re the sum of the four people you spend the most time with?” This matters in taking a great idea all the way to the pay window. A trend as of the last ten years is to hire on culture fit. Why wouldn’t we hire a bunch of people who look, think, and act just like us? Yes!... No. We instead need to surround ourselves with people who offer culture contribution. Those people who look, think, and act differently than us. Ask yourself what is missing from your team and hire toward those attributes.

This very concept is one of the driving factors toward the Chamber/City’s decision to office out of Proximity Space. We wanted to immerse ourselves into a culture that is not just about the Chamber, or just about Chelsea, or singular in any way. Coworking offers a multifaceted work environment full of diversity and also inclusion.

I know most of us spent at least part of our childhood trying to be the same as everyone else. That is a prison no person should live in.  If the authentic, original you has been banging on the walls of your personality screaming for freedom, I invite you to let it out. Ideate, iterate, explore.  Surround yourself with people who challenge your thinking and your belief system. Get out there and be ridiculous, inconvenient and disruptive. But most of all, be original.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of business innovation for the City of Montrose. She can be reached at chelsea@montrosechamber.com.