By Manny Roman
In the January issue of this wonderful publication, I discussed why procrastination is a good thing. I said, “I have convinced myself that I work better under the pressure of expiring time constraints. My focus is sharper and clearer.” I delight when I find confirming scientific evidence that it is good to procrastinate. On Ted.com, Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant provides me with this confirming testimony with his presentation titled “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers.”
The presentation discusses common traits of what he calls “Originals.” Originals are procrastinators and nonconformists. He states that originals share three common traits.
One: Originals are late to the party.
Grant also highlights that originals are quick to start, but slow to finish. Originals are moderate procrastinators. While others might get right to work on a task, originals work in the sweet spot between getting right to it and waiting until the last possible minute. Moderate procrastinators are 16% more creative than those at either end of the curve. Procrastination allows the mind to incubate the task while new, nonlinear ideas and creativity are explored. While procrastination may be a vice to productivity, it is a virtue for creativity. Playwright Aaron Sorkin states, “You call it procrastination. I call it thinking.”
Originals know that it is easier to improve on ideas than to start from scratch. There is no need to be first, just be different and better. I am sure that you can name quite a few organizations that became successful by improving the products and ideas of others.
Two: Originals feel doubt and fear.
He also points out that originals experience the same doubts and fears as others. They know that self-doubt is paralyzing while idea doubt is energizing. They realize that the first drafts will be inadequate and that they are just not finished yet. They know that in the long run, our greatest regrets are not our actions. They are our inactions, the chances not taken, the missed opportunities.
Originals doubt the default and look for better options. According to Grant, the web browser you choose is indicative of your performance. Firefox and Chrome users significantly outperform Safari and Internet Explorer users. They also stay on their jobs 15% longer. These people are those who doubt the default, preinstalled browser and search for better options. I admit that I use the Apple commanded browser.
So, the important takeaway is that originals look at things they have seen many times and look for improvements. When you feel doubt, don’t let it go. Embrace it.
Three: Originals have lots of bad ideas.
They realize that they will not be judged on their bad ideas. They will be judged on their good, successful ideas. The chances of a good outcome from many ideas is better than a good outcome from only one idea. The Wright brothers, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla and the other numerous originals who built America and the world had many bad ideas. Songwriters compose many, many songs to find a few golden nuggets. The point is to continue producing, improving and creating ideas – even bad ones.
With all that said, I come away with a couple of personal observations. I am a procrastinator for sure. However, I do not live in the sweet spot of creativity. I am controlled by the Instant Gratification Monkey until the deadline Panic Monster appears. (See the January issue)
I do not generate many original ideas, however I do love to say, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” I suppose that does not count.
Manny Roman, CRES