Adam Grant’s Originals: How to successfully create ideas

Friday, 01. September 2017

Adam Grant’s Originals:
How to successfully create ideas

The second part of our blog series presents Adam Grant's amazing insights is about finding ideas: In his book “Originals. How Non-Conformists Move the World” the US-American organizational psychologist asks how those ideas of our time, that are really original and successful, come into being in the first place. Therefore, Grant studies authentic "Originals": People, who don’t fit in and not only have great ideas, but first of all, who are also so bold to make them come true. In short: those who drive creativity and change are the ones, investors and employers should turn to. What habits do those Originals have? It’s actually just three vital points.

1. Procrastinating instead of getting down to business right away

When one of Grant’s students stated that she was most creative whenever she procrastinated a task for a while, he wanted to find out more: He had staff in different companies interviewed on how often they postponed things. Afterwards, their supervisors were asked to assess how creative and innovative the respective results or work were. The surprising finding: Precrastinators, who completed all tasks quickly, were indeed regarded less creative than moderate (not chronic!) procrastinators.
Lesen cutSoon a few additional experiments confirmed this: Apparently, procrastinating a task makes it possible for us to look at it from different angles, to think in a non-linear way and to develop unexpected ideas, says Grant. He points out examples for Originals like that like Leonardo Ad Vinci, who had worked more than 16 years on the Mona Lisa, or Martin Luther King Jr, who had been polishing his famous “I have a Dream”-speech until he was actually holding it. “Procrastination is a bad habit in terms of productivity. However, in terms of creativity, it can also be a virtue.”

According to Grant, this theory can also be applied to the founding of companies: The notorious first mover advantage often turns out to be wrong, since those who come secont have the chance to improve the product idea. Such “postponed” company foundations are more successful than the pioneers of one area. As examples for that, Grant refers to Facebook and MySpace or Google and Yahoo. In Short: In order to be inventive, you don’t have to be the first one, but you have to be different and better.

2. Always have a Plan B

Originals do also know fear and uncertainty: They may seem to be self-confident, but mostly they are not convinced of their idea from the beginning on. There are two sorts of doubt, Grant points out: self-doubt and doubts about the idea. “Self-doubt paralyzes you. It petrifies you. Doubts about the idea are inspiring. They encourage you to test, experiment and refine your idea”, he explains.

Therefore, it is completely legitimate to doubt the first draft of anything and to want to improve it – therefore, it’s also legitimate to have a plan B, which makes you confident enough, up your sleeve. Instead of being satisfied with the standard, a new point of view on a project opens up totally new ideas and possibilities you need to reality-check.

3. Don’t be afraid of bad ideas

The most important thing though, according to Grant, is to embrace failures, too, since sometimes it needs a lot of bad ideas to come up with one good one: “The greatest ‘originals’ are the ones who fail most often, since they are trying out a lot of things.” As an example he names the famous composers Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. Everyone of them composed hundreds of pieces but only a few masterpieces. “The higher your output is, the more you have to choose from and the better is the chance to find something inventive among it.”

So you shouldn’t be afraid of making a fool out of yourself: “Finally, you don’t regret what you’ve done but what you haven’t do”, Grant sums it up.

What we can learn from Originals

goldfish jumping cutAll in all, originals are not that much different from the rest: They postpone things, they are afraid and have doubts and they do have bad ideas, too. “However, they are successful not despite those characteristics, but just because of them. Don’t write those people off”, Grant admonishes us.  When recruiting new staff it’s worth to keep that at the back of your mind: Someone who seems all unstructured and insecure at first sight, may turn out being creative and self-reflective.

Of course it won’t hurt to adapt some of the habits of the originals:

  • Take your time when completing difficult tasks – this can enhance your creativity!
  • Doubts about an idea can motivate you – it’s not a shame to have a plan B up your sleeve!
  • It does need a lot of bad ideas to come up with some good ones – don’t give up easily!

Watch Adam Grant's impressing TED-Talk here:


For more inspiring impulses we recommend following following Adam Grant on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter – and subscribing to the SOLYP strategy blog, on which we will present more of Grant’s insights until the end of the year.

Also read the first part of our blog series: "Who gives wins: A Tribute to Adam Grant“.