orig•i•nal, n A thing of singular or unique character; a person who is different from other people in an appealing or interesting way; a person of fresh initiative or inventive capacity.

Years ago, psychologists discovered that there are two routes to achievement: conformity and originality. Conformity means following the crowd down conventional paths and maintaining the status quo. Originality is taking the road less traveled, championing a set of novel ideas that go against the grain but ultimately make things better. Of course, nothing is completely original, in the sense that all of our ideas are influenced by what we learn from the world around us. We are constantly borrowing thoughts, whether intentionally or inadvertently. We’re all vulnerable to “kleptomnesia”—accidentally remembering the ideas of others as our own.

By my definition, originality involves introducing and advancing an idea that’s relatively unusual within a particular domain, and that has the potential to improve it. Originality itself starts with creativity: generating a concept that is both novel and useful. But it doesn’t stop there. Originals are people who take the initiative to make their visions a reality.

  • Excerpted from Originality by Adam Grant