The Surprising Little Secret behind Being a True Original

The Surprising Little Secret behind Being a True Original

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin

“When it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.” – Adam Grant

I’ve always loved the above Steve Martin quote for its boldness and sass. Its motivating in the sense that, if you feel your work is being ignored, the onus is on you to do something about it. The question, of course, is how the hell do you get that good? If you feel like you’re running out of ideas, the call to just “be so good” can become, in a word, crushing.

That’s where the second quote comes in. It’s from Adam Grant’s new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, and it’s a game changer in terms of how we think about originality and its source. There’s a cultural myth about the value of the agonizing artist poring over every detail of a work to create an original masterpiece, but as it turns out, the best way to get somewhere good isn’t technical mastery alone: it’s also putting out buckets of work. Grant uses examples from Shakespeare to Einstein to make his case, highlighting the heaps of okay work these perceived geniuses created compared to the relatively few gems that really made a difference.

Artists and innovators in general, as it turns out, are pretty terrible at predicting what others will like. Often the works they feel are their best don’t hold much interest for their audiences. Work may have all the trappings of technical perfection, but the magic happens between the artist and the audience: what’s “so good” is multi-directional rather than being a one-way street.

If we combine these two thinkers’ insights – the motivational and the analytical – I think we land on a tweaked version of Martin’s quote, namely, that you need to be so good so often that they can’t ignore you.

Whether you agree with Grant’s insights or feel like you can buck the trend by doing it your own way, one thing’s for sure:

If you put nothing into the world, you can't blame it for ignoring you. Click To Tweet

So get out there and make some magic – buckets of it!

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  • Iris Jackson

    March 12, 2016

    I believe that your points in this post are very true. We know that preparation is a big key to producing a creative masterpiece. What people don’t focus on is all the work that went into developing the talent (10,000 hours according to some), to developing the proficiency and experience that results in productions that eventually do gain attention. There is no substitution for the hard work and I think that many talented people do not succeed because they don’t realize that success takes longer and is more difficult that anyone could ever tell them.

    • Ryan Melsom

      March 12, 2016

      Yes! There’s often a lot more to the story when it comes to those people that “make it look so easy.”


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