Back2Better: Originality – Tapping the Capacity of Each of US

October 15, 2020

An Exclusive Collection of Resources for Navigating the Future of Organizations, Work and HR Post-COVID

Originality: Tapping the Capacity of Each of Us

As organizations, we say we value creativity and creation.  But, how do we apply creativity in the midst of a crisis?  Isn’t it just time to buckle down and do what we’ve always done to be successful?

Nilofer Merchant says that during a time of reckoning and crisis, the question of value takes on a deeper importance.  Who is being valued?  How are we leading—even remotely—so that each person can create value?


According to Merchant, each of us stands in a place of power that is distinctly one’s own, the genesis of new ideas based on our individual history and experience, visions and hopes. This is Onlyness. This spot is our source of ideas. Tapping in to these ideas is the quickest and most effective way to create value in an organization—both economic and intrinsic.

Irony of Originality

When we value the human aspects people bring to work, we can begin to look at who is being heard and who isn’t. Most of our workplaces limit ideas—not because these ideas were evaluated and deemed worthless but because the person bringing the idea was deemed unworthy of being heard.

At most tables, the person who gets heard is the one with the fanciest title, the loudest voice or the most alpha personality.  However, innovation most often comes from left field—fresh ideas come from those who are outside “the group.”

The Irony of Originality is that while originality means being novel or unusual, the people with fresh ideas are often disconnected from the “the group”, preventing them from being heard or considered. We need to understand different vs distinct; subjective vs subject; and otherness vs onlyness.

Back2Better: Hiding is hurting our businesses.  The volatility of the crisis may drive people to hide even more to protect themselves from scrutiny.  However, now is the time when we must hear new ideas and solutions.  As leaders, we have to look for originality and onlyness.

No Only Lonely

People who are the “only” person—the only woman, the only African American, the only only—feel watched, excluded from social settings, and pressured to assimilate to the group.  Having an “only” at the table is not enough.  We have to change the room. We have to create an inclusive environment where everyone can bring their whole self.  When you belong based on your onlyness—your vertical, vocational, and horizontal identities—you’ve named what it is that matters to you and what allows you to bring innovative ideas to the table.

Back2Better: The “room” has changed.  The room is now the living room, the spare bedroom, the home office.  Getting to know your team and celebrating what makes them the “only” one brings psychological safety to the entire team in a time of social insecurity.  Can you bring out ideas that would otherwise not be expressed in this virtual room we now call the office?


Exceptional talent is already in your organization.  Create the system to expose it. You don’t have to hire to find creative ideas and approaches.  When people are connected based on what they value, they create value—both economic and social.

To learn more about the Back2Better 50 Webinars in 50 Weeks series please visit here

If your team is dealing with similar issues or have questions you’d like answered please fill out the form below!

Back2Better: Originality - Tapping the Capacity of Each of US

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