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Adam Grant reveals the 5 surprising habits of original thinkers

Have you wondered what separates original thinkers from the rest?

Some people say it’s I.Q. Other people say it’s confidence.

But according to psychologist Adam Grant, it’s none of these things.

In fact, he says that what really separates original thinkers is their habits.

The best bit?

We can all adopt these habits to be more creative, rational and self-confident.

So the question is, what the hell are these habits?

Check out the TED talk below to find out.

Don’t have time watch the riveting TED talk above? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a text summary:

Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist who has been studying “originals” for some time.

According to Grant, originals are nonconformists who not only have new ideas but take action to champion them. They stand out, they speak up and they drive change. They’re the people you want to bet on.

Here are top 5 habits of original thinkers, according to Grant:

1) They procrastinate

Yep, you read that right.

Grant says that procrastinating is a virtue for creativity:

“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.”

Leondardo da Vinci was a chronic procrastinator. It took him 16 years to complete Mona Lisa. He felt like a failure. But some of the diversions he took in optics transformed the way he modelled light and made him into a much better painter.

What about Martin Luther King, Jr.? The night before the biggest speech of his life, he was up past 3 am rewriting it.

He was sitting in the audience waiting for his turn to go onstage and still scribbling notes. When he got 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. The text wasn’t set in stone and he had freedom to improvise.

Procrastinating can be a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity.

According to Grant, “originals are quick to start, but slow to finish”.


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“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.”

2) They doubt their ideas

The second habit is that while originals look confident on the outside, behind the scenes, they feel the same fear and doubt that the rest of us do. They just manage it differently.

Grant says there are two different types of doubts: Self-doubt and idea-doubt.

Self-doubt can be paralyzing but idea-doubt can be energizing. It motivates you to test, experiment and refine, like MLK did. Instead of saying, “I’m crap,” you say, “The first few drafts are always crap, and I’m just not there yet”.

“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?”

3) What web browser do you use?

The third habit you might not like…but here it is.

Research has found that Firefox and Chrome users significantly outperform Internet Explorer and Safari users. Why? It’s not about the browser itself, but how you got the browser.

“But there is good evidence that Firefox and Chrome users significantly outperform Internet Explorer and Safari users. Yes.”

If you use Internet Explorer or Safari, you’re accepting the default option that came preinstalled on your computer. If you wanted Firefox or Chrome, you had to doubt the default and ask, is there a better option out there?

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Of course, this is just a small example of someone who takes the initiative to doubt the default and look for a better option.

“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?””

4) Vuja de

The fourth habit is something called vuja de…the opposite of deja vu.

Vuja de is when you look at something you’ve seen many times before and all of a sudden see it with fresh eyes. You start to see things you haven’t seen before. Buddhists call this the ‘Beginner’s Mind.’

Your mind is opened up to possibilities that you might not have considered before.

Grant explains how Jennifer Lee questioned an idea which led to even a better idea:

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.

5) They fail and fail again

And the fifth habit concerns fear.

Yep, 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.

As Adam Grant says, “they know that in the long run, our biggest regrets are not actions but our inactions”.

And if you look throughout history, the great originals are the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most:

“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.”

As Adam Grant says, “being original is not easy, but I have no doubt about this: it’s the best way to improve the world around us.”


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Notable replies

  1. Cool article. Thanks. I’ve heard they also swear a lot, apparently.

  2. I remember being in a salon-style conversation with @Ruda about swearing. Unfortunately we weren’t able to record it, but I remember he made some really valuable points about swearing.

    The best I can do is share this article we published about the work FUCK. The spiritual guru Osho was recorded on video speaking about what a magical word it is:

  3. A very interesting post and when I realized it was describing me to a “t” it got even better. Well done!

  4. We’re a curious, insecure, adventurous species. We also have a tendency to B. S. our competitors to gain an advantage. I was one of those that took the B. S. to heart which screwed with my brain that interprets our reality, whether it is correct or not (mental illness). Anyway, I’ve spent most of my life being schooled at The School of Hard Knocks, The School of Failure & the School of Perseverance where I presently reside most of the time.

  5. If you are doing something you like, you are passionate about, you will find life is much more rewarding. What do you do?

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Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the editor of Ideapod and founder of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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