Guild Gathering: Adam Grant’s “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”

Posted June 25, 2018

Our staff came together last week to discuss Adam Grant’s TED Talk “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers.” Grant, an organizational psychologist, reveals how creative people develop successful ideas. He outlines the three unexpected habits of the people he has termed originals—those who have innovative ideas that they act upon—including the tendency to procrastinate, to improve a preexisting idea (as opposed to creating an entirely new one), and to embrace the possibility of failure.

We were all especially intrigued by Grant’s insistence that procrastination can be a strength, as opposed to the weakness it is often perceived as. A procrastinator, he posits, creates a stronger, more successful product because he or she gives themselves the opportunity to step away from an idea, while still thinking about it subconsciously, and then return to it with a fresher and more creative approach. “Precrastinators”, on the other hand, prefer to finish a task as soon as it is assigned, often significantly before the deadline. Though this often makes them more dependable and timely in their follow-through, their ideas may lack creativity and innovation.

Our staff took turns reflecting on how we identify—as procrastinators or precrastinators.
Our procrastinators on staff spoke of the thrill of tight deadlines, whereas our precrastinators spoke of the thrill of crossing things off a to-do list. However, many of us found that how we identified was often situation-dependent. For larger, creative projects, we tended to procrastinate; while more detail-driven, non-creative projects lend themselves to precrastination. In addition, when acting as the coordinator on a project, precrastination is often a strength, but when acting as the ‘brainstormer,’ procrastination can produce more interesting ideas and creative solutions.

Grant also made the unexpected argument that originals are improvers, not movers – meaning they improve upon an idea that is already in the market as opposed to creating an entirely new one. For instance, Google dominates the online search market but came years after Yahoo and Altavista, and Facebook arrived on the scene after Myspace and Friendster yet remains successful to this day. By waiting to release a product, originals have extra time to learn from their competitors’ mistakes and finetune their own ideas. It isn’t the first product that lasts the longest; it’s the best.

The idea of informed innovation affects many aspects of the work we do at our firm. We discussed the need for continuous, but informed, transformation in the counsel and resources we provide our clients as well as in our internal management systems. This is the best way to continually grow our impact and reach and achieve new successes.

Grant concluded his talk by discussing originals’ willingness to embrace failure. When one lacks a fear of failure, one is willing to try any idea. Of course, many of these ideas will fail. But to be an original, you only need one to succeed.

Now, more than ever, we hear many of our clients discussing the need for their teams to be willing to embrace failure. These organizations recognize that failure can lead to growth, to innovation, and to amazing outcomes.

Grant’s speech was a welcome reminder that true success and creativity can be borne of last-minute ideas, multiple attempts, and a healthy dose of failure.

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