The surprising habits of original thinkers | Adam Grant


Seven years ago, a student came to me
and asked me to invest in his company. He said, “I’m working with three friends, and we’re going to try to disrupt
an industry by selling stuff online.” And I said, “OK, you guys spent
the whole summer on this, right?” “No, we all took internships
just in case it doesn’t work out.” “All right, but you’re going to
go in full time once you graduate.” “Not exactly. We’ve all
lined up backup jobs.” Six months go by, it’s the day before the company launches, and there is 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. (Laughter) They sell glasses online. They were recently recognized
as the world’s most innovative company and valued at over a billion dollars. 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 are nonconformists, people who not only have new ideas but take action to champion them. They are people
who stand out and speak up. Originals drive creativity
and change in the world. 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 ground. 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 precrastinator. 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. (Laughter) So this started early: when I was a kid,
I took Nintendo games very seriously. I would wake up at 5am, start playing and not stop
until I had mastered them. Eventually it got so out of hand
that a local newspaper came and did a story on the dark side
of Nintendo, starring me. (Laughter) (Applause) Since then, I have traded hair for teeth. (Laughter) 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 Jihae,
who came to me and said, “I have my most creative ideas
when I’m procrastinating.” And I was like, “That’s cute,
where are the four papers you owe me?” (Laughter) 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 to get some data. She goes into a bunch of companies. She has people 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 precrastinators like me, who rush in and do everything early are rated as less creative than people who procrastinate moderately. So I want to know what happens
to the chronic procrastinators. She was like, “I don’t know.
They didn’t fill out my survey.” (Laughter) No, here are our results. You actually do see that the people
who wait until the last minute are so busy goofing off
that they don’t have any new ideas. And on the flip side,
the people who race in are in such a frenzy of anxiety that they
don’t have original thoughts either. There’s a sweet spot
where originals 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 some experiments. We asked 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 assign
to procrastinate by dangling Minesweeper in front of them for either five or 10 minutes. And sure enough,
the moderate procrastinators are 16 percent more creative
than the other two groups. Now, Minesweeper is awesome,
but it’s not the driver of the effect, 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
going to be working on this problem, and then you start procrastinating, but the task is still active
in the back of 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 as we were 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 metaprocrastinated, and like any self-respecting
precrastinator, I woke up early the next morning and I made a to-do list
with steps on how to procrastinate. (Laughter) 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 were 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 in optics transformed the way that he 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 up past 3am, rewriting it. He’s sitting in the audience
waiting for his turn to go onstage, and he is still scribbling notes
and crossing out lines. When he gets onstage, 11 minutes in, he leaves his prepared remarks to utter 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 a vice
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 at 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 percent, compared with only 8 percent
for the improvers. Look at Facebook,
waiting to build a social network until after Myspace and Friendster. Look at Google, 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, because I expected that originals
would look something like this. (Laughter) Now, on the surface, a lot of original people look confident, but behind the scenes, they feel the same fear and doubt
that the rest of us do. They just manage it differently. Let me show you: this is a depiction of how the creative process
works for most of us. (Laughter) Now, in my research, I discovered
there are two different kinds of doubt. There’s self-doubt and idea doubt. Self-doubt is paralyzing. It leads 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 three to 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
going to like the results of this study — (Laughter) But there is good evidence
that Firefox and Chrome users significantly outperform
Internet Explorer and Safari users. Yes. (Applause) They also stay in their jobs
15 percent 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 or Safari, those came preinstalled on your computer, and you accepted the default option
that was handed to you. If you wanted 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?” (Laughter) 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 déjà vu. There’s a name for it.
It’s called vuja de. (Laughter) Vuja de is 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 Lee starts to question
whether that makes sense. She rewrites the first act, reinvents the villain as 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. (Laughter) What about fear? Originals feel fear, too. They’re afraid of failing, but what sets them 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 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. Elon Musk told me recently,
he didn’t expect Tesla to succeed. He was sure the first few SpaceX 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 we have an important idea, we don’t bother to try. But I have some good news for you. You are not going to 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 percent of them stayed silent
instead of speaking up. They were afraid of embarrassing
themselves, of looking stupid. But guess what? Originals
have lots and lots of bad ideas, tons of them, in fact. Take the guy who invented this. Do you care that he came up
with a talking doll so creepy that it scared not only kids
but adults, too? No. You celebrate Thomas Edison
for pioneering the light bulb. (Laughter) 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 do some of them get more pages
in 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 churn 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 2,000 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. Know that being quick to start
but slow to finish can boost your creativity, that you can 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. (Applause)

Comments 100

  • Thank you very much sir,I had many doubts but thanks to you now I know what I have to do.

  • B.S.

  • I am on deadline but here I am, watching how awesome I am for not worrying about deadline 😉

  • Now, was this a TED talk or an American comedy show? I found the silliness distracting, TBH.

  • I wish I had ideas.

  • proved to be false.

  • good theory but heres the thing, people usually dont feel comfortable in fears nor doubts that's why this wprks for this guy because fears and doubts are perceived as normal in his brains

  • You call it procrastination, but it’s search. Open your mind to the possibilities then filter the results.

  • Your ignorant

  • and what if I use Linux? I must be a really big innovator!

  • "To be original, you don't have to be first. You just have to be different and better."

    Quote of the DECADE!

  • I am an original according to this video lol

  • Chronic procrastinators get fired.

  • My new favorite speaker

  • Does it bother anybody else that he keeps saying “them” and “us”? I just feel like he’s putting the audience down…

  • The originals are nothing morn than us
    They procrastinate ,they doubt something and at the same time fear to lose
    But it is this that changed those so-called bad things into a leap ,which is they think better solutions to balance the cost paid by their laziness when procrastinating,they won’t look down upon their doubts when doubting , and they fear not to try instead of facing the simple fear that they are harboring when fearing

  • He looks like he is one yell away from crying

  • His head is shinier than my future.

  • ive watched a lot of ted video and this is single handedly the best ive ever watched, THANK YOU

  • Creativity and play go hand in hand

  • Does he voice a few characters in South Park?

  • Wagner: Writes less compositions than his contemporaries

    Adam Grant: Wait, that's illegal.

  • Okay this is off-topic but he looks like he's like 3 seconds away from breaking down and crying lmao but great video

  • i must be very successful in the future. i not only doubt that safari is the right browser, i doubt that only firefox or any other is the right browser. so now i use three different kind of browsers.

  • this guy has a wife…… lol maybe by wife he means "bottom"

  • im prognastiating and im 0 creative im fucked

  • My opinion is….. bleh… can't be bothered to say

  • How about edge, opera, brave, etc users?

  • Excellent 👍

  • I feel that innovation which is essentially creativity cannot be procrastinated upon. I cannot see how delaying an idea especially a business idea could add any value to your creativity because in my mind it would make more sense to create at bare minimum a viable product, take it to market , crash it, learn from it and then improve on it. I believe this is what Eric Ries the author of "the lean startup" refers to as "validated learning". The idea is to build things that customers want and are willing to pay for and procrastinating on a good innovative idea would only lead to a delay in the learning process. I think anyone who listens to this speakers talk should also read the Lean Start up if the intent behind the idea was simply to start a business.

  • I am 100% original., yet am broke despite my mind and skill sets.

  • If it wasn’t for the last minute,nothing would get done.

  • Secretly he made 100s of compositions but only publish the best 🙂

  • Some people weren't meant to be speakers. It's OK, go to something else.

  • Original thinker == steve jobs

  • If I have 6 months to do something, I think for 5 months then start to do it, but fail to complete 90% of my ideas.
    Still, once I got max score for a 70% unfinished work at school.

  • This guy sounds/moves like Mark Zuckerberg… did they have the same speech/presentation coach??? 🤔
    Great content, though… and he is much funnier than Zuckerberg.

  • So good

  • We need robots to replace us at our 40+ hours a week jobs so we have time to generate ideas. What if every block had a university feel?

  • I think we need to stop romanticizing failure. If you’re a company or startup that fails, people lose their jobs, investors lose money, and you lose time.

  • Look at frame 1.32 someone is glued to mobile

  • i am so sick of people acting like steve jobs was so innovative and creative and awesome, all he did was steal ideas from other people and he was good in marketing

  • he has a wife? lol my gaydar is going off strong haha

  • the dont let it go pun was nice

  • "You don't have to be first, you just have to be different and better"

  • Good speech. Good points. But so not true.

  • An interesting insight at modern society is that current thinkers look at originals as mostly entrepreneurs while the same thinkers look at artists/scientists if they look at the past. I don't personally think that entrepreneurs are the new originals, yet that our perception is fundamentally biased.

  • If only Trump-haters would listen to this! But they won't; it doesn't fit their narrative.

  • We could all think the same naturally..it is what we are suppose to do, and I can explain. Unfortunately, barriers have been purposefully implemented, for good reason at the time, that prevents us from accomplishing this objective. Please take a moment to read this and then kick back and think.

    Shane the Shaman

  • I am 100% an original up until 11:54. I have horrible diagnosed anxiety/depression, unfortunately…

  • Steve bessos

  • Midpoint people on the graph action actions and they think deeply with the duct of reasoning and create more or improve a new invention the people on the turtle procrastination never create any inventions because they procrastinate on that too! LOL, put on the same side or the flip side of the people that totally procrastinate probably do a lot more deductive reasoning and thinking and even though they don't action and reactions to make inventions or improve something they probably have better thoughts so they should work at a think tank for a corporation!

  • Is it just me that thinks there's a huge "survival bias" going on in "the ones that makes it big"?

  • What, the habit of getting taken advantage of by thieves?

  • …I don't know they never filled out my survey lol

  • I needed that thanks.

  • This is one of those guys that seems gay but if your smart you can tell he’s not

  • his "Wife" . . . I call bullshit.. This man is gayer than a Broadway showing of cats…

  • "To take the initiative to doubt the default, and look for a better option."

    That is what it means to be American!

  • 10 minutes procrastinating. Weak. I spent 4 months procrastinating my final year project.

  • Coz obviously you won't hear it coming from a procrastinator itself 😄

  • What a strange little man; he is almost incoherent.

  • I needed this confirmation

  • The 2nd ted talk that I have finished Hahaha 😍 thank you for inspiring and encouraging us to be original 💓💓💓

  • the one thing I am sure about is that no actual original ever needed such lectures about other originals.

    They are original on how to be an original I guess.

  • Don't do that, don't give me hope

  • Awesome presentation. One of the best I've seen.

  • Procrastination is sounding good but I'm not sure I'll risk it with my assignments 😂

  • grant , aptly named

  • Wait… people who start way too early aren't as creative, and people who start way too late aren't as creative, but people who don't do either are more creative? So, isn't that just normal people? The mid range between the two extremes is just the median, yeah?

  • Check out this little video to learn the most powerful and heavily suppressed information known to man.  It can definitely save your life…   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4aHae6p__g

  • I feel like this entire talk is an oxymoron

  • TED is a ray of light in our world of outrageous people getting so much ink. THANKS!!

  • Not procrastinated to watch it later😂😂

  • He is looking like lord voldemort..in formals..

  • Periodt

  • What a talented speaker

  • I watched this video to procrastinate on doing my Chinese homework. I got it done though lol

  • If you like this video you might be absolutely retarded. This is click bait at its best.

  • I guess 80% of the people who disliked this video will have without fully watching it, you know how i know? I almost did it too.

  • Close your eyes while listening this and daffy duck will appear in your conscious😂

  • This guy clearly has no idea what procrastinating is !

  • All i heard was you need some fruit juicey red Hawain Punch, some Spanish peanuts and a Reese Cup candy bar

  • 先延ばしは思考する時間であり、無駄な時間ではない。早くに取り掛かり、そこから時間を置くことで、自分の頭の中にアイディアを生み出すことができる。
    偉大な先輩たちは数々の駄作を生み出しながら、一握りの傑作を生み出してきた。頭の中にあるアイディアを自分の体裁を気にして言わないことは、失敗することよりも後悔することになる。
    恐怖を受け入れ、慎重に先延ばしをし、挑戦し続けることが、素晴らしいことを成し遂げる秘訣である。

  • It's because I don't want to think about my work, I'll try to think of anything else just to avoid it

  • Love you, man! So brilliant thoughts and sence of humor. Best talk i've seen on TED. Wish you all the best!

  • ust be yourself and learn

    happy life we create with positive vibration around we

  • I NEEDED THIS SOOOOOOOOO MUCH!!!! <3 <3 <3 <3

  • Thank you..

  • My dad told me that there is almost NEVER an idea that can't be improved upon. And that's true. I'm not saying look for good ideas to rip off, but there is always a way to improve.

  • I procrastinated for whole day before watching this.

  • He forgot the most important elements.
    Time and place.

  • Thumbs down instantly when I heard his lisp.

  • "Procrastinating is a vice for productivity, but it's a virtue for creativity"

  • "You don't have to be first, you just have to be different and better"… that's not being original, that's stealing ideas from originals. The whole debate about Creativity and Innovation and what's more important is relevant to me; it's crystal clear CREATIVITY wins. To pretend otherwise is delusional!

  • I usually do tasks at the last moment, or later even thought I could have done them earlier, because I wait for my mind to be ready to do the assignment or when I feel motivated to do it. And they always turn out amazing, even if I did it the day before at 1 am.

    Never knew it was because of this reason, nice speech.

  • Originales . Hands up

  • "First few drafts are always crap, and I'm not just there yet."

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