What if procrastination, doubt and generating a lot of bad ideas were actually good for business? According to organizational psychologist and Wharton Professor Adam Grant, they are.
Systems need originality. Grant studies the people who typically champion originality within systems. He calls them Originals. He is sure to note that we can all learn to be Originals. In truth, Originals are not so different from the rest of us. They have their doubts and often take more calculated risks than we might first assume. Grant’s extensive work with and research into original thinkers points to a set of core, rather surprising, habits.
Given that we are all in the business of building more innovative habits, (whether we consciously recognise and are investing in this yet or not), I have deemed Grant’s wisdom a most worthwhile focus for this post. Let’s see if you agree.
Here are three key habits to think upon.
Martin Luther King Jr spent considerable time working on his ‘I have a dream’ speech in the run-up to it. And so, it may surprise many people to know that the powerful and well-remembered phrase “I have a dream” was not a concrete part of the speech until he stood up and started talking. About 10 minutes in, he put aside his carefully crafted notes, and just spoke from the heart.
According to Grant’s research, those people who are moderate procrastinators produce results that are 16% more creative. His work suggests that the best ideas benefit from a period of incubation. The idea is to plant the seed, and then let it rest in the mind, without actively working on it for a time. When novel ideas are the currency you seek, starting and finishing early or leaving things until the last minute do not yield the most original results.
The so-called first-mover advantage, says Grant, is also a myth. 47% of first movers fail (MySpace), while only 8% of improvers do (Facebook). Food for thought.
Key takeaway: Boost your creativity by starting quick, finishing slow.
Let’s differentiate between two kinds of doubt: self-doubt and idea-doubt. The kind of doubt that assists Originals to champion novelty within the system is not self-doubt (although arrogance can and does put a spanner in the works), but idea-doubt. It is that niggle that cannot be ignored, the ‘something’ that bothers. Idea doubt allows us to test and refine the best ideas, to unearth what others may be missing.
Key takeaway: When you feel doubt, don’t let it go. Stick with it. Get into the routine of asking, What if the doubt has a message for us?
- Generating a lot of bad ideas
Nobody gets remembered for their bad ideas. Thomas Edison’s work with light bulbs is remembered as a spark of brilliance on the timeline of invention. His work with talking dolls, however, is not. Described by the Smithsonian Magazine as expensive, heavy, non-functioning and scary looking, the talking doll that Edison invented was a spectacular commercial flop. The archives at Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey showcase a dazzling 5 million pages of original documents of Edison’s successes in the realms of sound recording, motion pictures and electric power, and failures such as ventures into ore mines, cement houses, electric pens and talking toys. He is not unique in the sheer volume of his ideas generation. Far from it.
The people who try the most, fail the most. They generate the most ideas and learn the most. To stumble upon the good ones, you need to generate a lot of ideas and many of those ideas will be ‘bad’ ideas. The greatest inventors across the ages have known and practised this.
Key Takeaway: Motivate yourself by embracing the fear of failing to try. Generate a lot of ideas! And, please also stop teasing people at work for putting forward ‘stupid’ ideas. The same goes for ‘stupid’ questions.
Adam Grant’s website is a treasure trove of on-point insights. You can find it here: https://www.adamgrant.net/
He also wrote the book Originals.
“A great idea is a great start. But it’s what you do next that counts.” – Adam Grant