The surprising habits of original thinkers | Adam GrantJune 25
How do creative people come up with great ideas? Organizational psychologist Adam Grant studies "originals": thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world. In this talk, learn three unexpected habits of originals -- including embracing failure. "The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they're the ones who try the most," Grant says. "You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones."
you're listening to a special archive presentation of Ted talks daily. This talk features organizational psychologist Adam Grant recorded live at Ted 2016. Adam is also the host of Ted's podcast work Life Back for a second season. In each episode, Adam takes you inside the minds of some of the world's most unusual professionals to discover the science of making work, not suck. Listen, toe work Life with Adam Grant wherever you get your podcasts. What happens when your co worker does? The same job is you, but makes way more money. And what should you do about it? These the kinds of stories you hear on this is uncomfortable. It's a weekly show for marketplace about life and how money messes with it. The show is funny, a little tense and just a little uncomfortable, like talking about money in the first place. Subscribe to this is uncomfortable wherever you get your podcasts.
Seven years ago,
a student came to me and asked me to invest in his company.
I'm working with three friends and we're gonna try to disrupt an industry by selling stuff online,
and I said,
you guys spent the whole summer on this,
We all took internships,
just in case it doesn't work out.
But you're gonna go in full time once you graduate.
We've all lined up backup jobs.
Six months go by.
It's the day before the company launches and there's still not a functioning website.
You guys realize the entire company is a website. That's literally all it is. So I obviously declined to invest, and they ended up naming the company. Warby Parker. They sell glasses online. They were recently recognizes the world's most innovative company and valued at over a $1,000,000,000. And now my wife handles our investments. Why was I so wrong to find out? I've been studying people that I come to call originals, originals, air nonconformists, people who not only have new ideas but take action to champion them. They're people who stand out and speak up. Originals drive creativity and change in the world's. They're the people you want to bet on and they look nothing like I expected.
I want to show you today. Three things I've learned about recognizing originals and becoming a little bit more like them. So the first reason that I passed on Warby Parker was they were really slow getting off the grounds. Now you are all intimately familiar with the mind of a procrastinator. Well, I have a confession for you. I'm the opposite. I'm a pre crashed in ator. Yes, that's an actual term. You know that panic you feel a few hours before a big deadline when you haven't done anything yet? I just feel that a few months ahead of time. So this started early when I was a kid. I took in Tendo games very seriously. I would wake up at 5 a.m. Start playing and not stop until I had mastered them. Eventually got so out of hand that a local newspaper came and did a story on the dark side of Nintendo starring me.
But this served me well in college because I finished my senior thesis four months before the deadline. And I was proud of that until a few years ago. I had a student named G Hey, who came to me and said, I have my most creative ideas when I'm procrastinating and I was like, That's cute. Where the four papers you owe me. No, she was one of our most creative students, and as an organizational psychologist, this is the kind of idea that I test. So I challenged her, should get some data. She goes into a bunch of companies. She has people to fill out surveys about how often they procrastinate. Then she gets their bosses to rate how creative and innovative they are.
And sure enough, the pre crass traitors like me, who Russian and do everything early R rated is less creative than people who procrastinate moderately. So I want to know what happens to the chronic procrastinators. She's like, I don't know, they didn't fill out my survey. No, here are results. You actually do see that the people who wait till the last minute are so busy goofing off that they don't have any new ideas. And on the flip side, the people who raced in are in such a frenzy of anxiety that they don't have original thoughts, either. There's a sweet spot where original seem to live. Why is this? Maybe original people just have bad work habits.
Maybe procrastinating does not cause creativity. To find out, we designed experiments. We ask people to generate new business ideas. And then we get independent readers to evaluate how creative and useful they are, and some of them are asked to do the task right away. Others we randomly assigned to procrastinate by dangling mind sweeper in front of them for either five or 10 minutes. And sure enough, the moderate procrastinators are 16% more creative than the other two grips. Now, my slippers. Awesome. But it's not the driver of the effects, because if you play the game first before you learn about the task, there's no creativity boost. It's only when you're told that you're gonna be working on this problem and then you start procrastinating.
But the task is still active in the back. Your mind that you start to incubate procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas to think in nonlinear ways to make unexpected leaps. So just a CZ we're finishing these experiments. I was starting to write a book about originals, and I thought, this is the perfect time to teach myself to procrastinate while writing a chapter on procrastination. So I met a procrastinated and like any self respecting procrastinator, I woke up early the next morning and I made it to do list with steps on how to procrastinate. And then I worked diligently toward my goal of not making progress toward my goal. I started writing the procrastination chapter, and one day I was halfway through. I literally put it away in mid sentence. For months. It was agony, but when I came back to it, I had all sorts of new ideas.
As Aaron Sorkin put it. You call it procrastinating, I call it thinking. And along the way I discovered that a lot of great originals in history where procrastinators take Leonardo da Vinci, he toiled on and off for 16 years on the Mona Lisa. He felt like a failure. He wrote as much in his journal. But some of the diversions he took, an optics transformed the way they modeled light and made him into a much better painter. What about Martin Luther King Jr. The night before the biggest speech of his life, the march on Washington, he was a past 3 a.m. Rewriting it. He's sitting in the audience waiting for his turn to go on stage, and he is still scribbling notes and crossing outlines when he gets on stage 11 minutes in, he leaves his prepared remarks,
the other four words that changed the course of history. I have a dream that was not in the script By delaying the task of finalizing the speech until the very last minute. He left himself open to the widest range of possible ideas. And because the text wasn't set in stone, he had freedom to improvise. Procrastinating is advice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity. What you see with a lot of great originals is that they are quick to start, but they're slow to finish. And this is what I missed with Warby Parker when they were dragging their heels for six months. I looked at them and said, You know, a lot of other companies are starting to sell glasses online. They missed the first mover advantage, but what I didn't realize was they were spending all that time trying to figure out how to get people to be comfortable ordering glasses online. And it turns out the first mover advantage is mostly a myth look.
A classic study of over 50 product categories comparing the first movers who created the market with the improvers who introduced something different and better. What you see is that the first movers had a failure rate of 47% compared with only 8% for the improvers. Look at Facebook winning to build a social network until after my space and Friendster look a girl waiting for years after AltaVista and Yahoo, It's much easier to improve on somebody else's idea than it is to create something new from scratch. So the lesson I learned is that to be original, you don't have to be first. You just have to be different and better. But that wasn't the only reason I passed on Warby Parker. They were also full of doubts. They had backup plans lined up, and that made me doubt that they had the courage to be original. Now, on the surface, a lot of original people, the confident but behind the scenes, they feel the same fear and doubt that the rest of us do.
They just manage it differently now. In my research, I discovered they're two different kinds of doubt. Their self doubt and idea Dad, self doubt is paralyzing. It leaves you to freeze. But idea doubt is energizing it motivates you to test, to experiment, to refine, just like MLK did. And so the key to being original is just a simple thing of avoiding the leap from Step 32 Step four. Instead of saying I'm crap, you say the first few drafts are always crap, and I'm just not there yet. So how do you get there? Well,
there's a clue, It turns out, in the Internet browser that you use, we can predict your job performance and your commitment just by knowing what Web browser you use. Now. Some of you are not gonna like the results of this study, but there is good evidence that fire Fox and chrome users significantly outperform Internet Explorer. Insofar users. Yes, they also stay in their jobs 15% longer, by the way, why it's not a technical advantage. The four browser groups, on average, have similar typing speed, and they also have similar levels of computer knowledge.
It's about how you got the browser, because if you use Internet Explorer Safari, those came preinstalled on your computer and you accepted the default option that was handed to you. If you want in Firefox or chrome, you had to doubt the default and ask, Is there a different option out there and then be a little resourceful and download a new browser? So people hear about this study, and they're like, Great! If I want to get better at my job, I just need to upgrade my browser. No, it's about being the kind of person who takes the initiative to doubt the default and look for a better option. And if you do that well, you will open yourself up to the opposite of deja vu. There's a name for it.
It's called Rouge today, Volusia Days. When you look at something you've seen many times before and all of a sudden see it with fresh eyes, it's a screenwriter who looks at a movie script that can't get the green light. For more than half a century in every past version, the main character has been an evil queen. But Jennifer Li's starts to question whether that makes sense. She rewrites the first act, reinvents the villain, is a tortured hero and frozen becomes the most successful animated movie ever. So there's a simple message from this story. When you feel doubt, don't let it go. What about fear? Originals feel fear, too.
They're afraid of failing. But what sets him apart from the rest of us is that they're even more afraid of failing to try. They know you can fail by starting a business that goes bankrupt or by a failing to start a business at all. They know that in the long run, our biggest regrets are not our actions, but our inactions. The things we wish we could redo. If you look at the science, are the chances not taken. Ellen must told me recently he didn't expect Tesla to succeed. He was sure the first few Space X launches would fail to make it to orbit, let alone get back. But it was too important not to try. And for so many of us, when you have an important idea, we don't bother to try.
But I have some good news for you. You're not gonna get judged on your bad ideas. A lot of people think they will. If you look across industries and ask people about their biggest idea their most important suggestion. 85% of them stayed silent. Instead of speaking up, they're afraid of embarrassing themselves of looking stupid. But guess what? Originals have lots and lots of bad ideas. Tons them. In fact, if you look across fields, the greatest originals are the ones who fail the most because they're the ones who try the most. Take classical composers the best of the best. Why does some of them get more pages and encyclopedias than others and also have their compositions rerecorded more times? One of the best predictors is the sheer volume of compositions that they generate.
The more output you turn out, the more variety you get and the better your chances of stumbling on something truly original. Even the three icons of classical music Bach, Beethoven, Mozart had to generate hundreds and hundreds of compositions to come up with a much smaller number of masterpieces. Now you may be wondering, How did this guy become great without doing a whole lot? I don't know how Wagner pulled that off, but for most of us, if we want to be more original, we have to generate more ideas. The Warby Parker founders, when they were trying to name their company, they needed something sophisticated, unique, with no negative associations to build a retail brand,
and they tested over 2000 possibilities before they finally put together Warby and Parker. So if you put all this together, what you see is that originals are not that different from the rest of us. They feel fear and doubt. They procrastinate, they have bad ideas. And sometimes it's not in spite of those qualities, but because of them that they succeed. So when you see those things don't make the same mistake I did. Don't write them off. And when that's you, don't count yourself out, either. No, that being quick to start but slow to finish can boost your creativity. That you could motivate yourself by doubting your ideas and embracing the fear of failing to try,
and that you need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones. Look, being original is not easy, but I have no doubt about this. It's the best way to improve the world around us. Thank you
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