Being Original

Last month, scientists published a study suggesting that unicorns (or at least a unicorn-esque creature) lived alongside the early humans. While this was exciting news for those of us keeping the dream alive that our favorite magical creatures could be real, here at The Gift we find our own kind of unicorns every day. These unicorns, or Originals, as Adam Grant calls them in his book of the same name, are the rare people whose ideas have a profound impact on the way we live.


Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World, explores some of the most famous originals (think Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King Jr., Disney), but also analyzes the behavior of all types of learners and workers to identify the traits that make Originals. Originals aren’t fearless, in fact they’re often more risk-averse than their non-entrepreneurial counterparts. Originals don’t instantly come up with genius ideas, they just keep creating ideas until they find the one that will be genius.

Non-profits are fueled by Originals. These are the people who truly believe that one individual can make a difference, and that one individual is going to be them. We have encountered many natural Originals in our work, with brilliant dreams for changing the world. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Grant’s book, however, is that while Originals are certainly unique individuals, they aren’t necessarily born that way. In our work, we seek to identify Originals, but we are also dedicated to building teams to think like Originals. The Ask, or pitching a proposal to a donor can cause anxiety for a lot of individuals. In stressful situations, Grant notes that the most obvious suggestion is to “try to relax and calm down.” Yet if we want to be like the Originals, instead of being calm, we need to be excited. Reframing this fear or anxiety as excitement increased performance by about 20 percent in Grant’s research. To be an Original in the non-profit world, we need to be excited to champion our causes, rather than inhibited by the fear of failure.