Groundbreaking ideas and research for engaged leaders
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Rotman Insights Hub | University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

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Adam Grant

Transcript of the video:

We’ve talked a little bit about some things that you can do to communicate your original ideas. You can admit their weaknesses, not just their strengths. You can be a tempered radical, and maybe not share your full vision. And you can try to connect your new idea to something more familiar. But what about who you go to? Who is the ideal audience for a pitch?

One of the things you see is that highly original people will look for allies in places that the rest of us might not. One lesson from this research is your enemies are actually better allies than your frenemies. So if you've ever had a frenemy, somebody that is sometimes supportive and has your back, and other time stabs you in the back, those are even worse allies than people who just plain hate your guts.

Why? There's evidence that, in fact it is literally unhealthier for you, physically, cardiovascularly, to have more frenemies in your life than enemies. Because at least enemies are predictable, right? You know that they're always going to be negative toward you so you can minimize your interaction or you can prepare. But frenemies are unpredictable. It takes a huge amount of emotional energy to imagine and forecast how they're going to treat you in each interaction. And it's hard to trust them.

Whereas enemies, if you can convert them they are your most loyal allies. Because, one, they had to overcome a lot of cognitive dissonance to decide to like you. But there’s a classic body of research in psychology showing that the people we like most are not the ones that we started out best friends with, they're the ones that we started out intensely disliking, and then came around to a positive view toward.

Because you have to go through that process of convincing yourself this person is actually not a horrible human being, and that also makes you a more understanding person, because you can go to people and say, “Look I used to think this person was a moron too, but I have seen the light.”

The other thing that I learned about where you can find allies is that everybody believes that you should look for people who share your goals; whenever you have a new idea find a partner who has the same objective. But more than a century ago Freud wrote about the narcissism of differences. This might have been one of his only good ideas ever but I think it was profound. Freud observed that sometimes tiny differences between people get magnified and they drive groups apart instead of binding them together.


And we have good evidence for this now. There is cool data to suggest that if you are a vegan you will dislike vegetarians even more than meat-eaters. It is not a joke. It is an empirical fact.

Why? There's a simple explanation. At least the meat eaters are consistent in their principles, right? The vegetarians are sell outs. They’re impure, they're not serious, they're not committed to the cause, which is why — and we see this in many different realms — more extreme groups often look down their noses at more mainstream groups. It’s, if you're an original, if you have an extreme idea it's very hard to see value in people who are kind of aligned with you but kind of not.

The people who turn out to be better allies are not the ones who share your goals; they’re people who share your methods, who have the same ways of working, the same habits; because it's easy to coordinate. That's one of the reasons, for example that environmentalists are often forming alliances with union members, because they're used to picketing.

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Adam Grant is an American psychologist and author, and the top-rated professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has been recognized as one of the world’s 25 most influential management thinkers and Fortune’s 40 under 40. He is the author of New York Times bestsellers Originals and Give and Take.