If you haven’t watched it yet, I suggest you take 15 minutes out of your day to watch the “Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”, a TED Talks speech by Adam Grant.
From what I can tell from my EXPERT skills in deductive reasoning, research Adam Grant is a professor (he had a ‘student’ who led him to commission a study) at a pretty prestigious university (he’s rubbing elbows with Elon Musk and had the guys who started Warby Parker in class). I can also glean that he’s a professor in the field of psychology, perhaps consumer psychology (I think he even actually states it in the speech).
While you’re probably hoping to hear more about my amazing skills in perception (kidding), let’s give Mr. Grant his due and instead focus on his concepts and how they can be taken a little further to be implemented, executed, and ultimately impact all of us.
While the whole speech was insightful and again, definitely worth your time to watch, a few things in particular stuck out to me. They were elaborations on pieces many of us in business unknowingly subscribe to, but by investigating them thoroughly, Grant took the concepts a little further and put some science behind them. The premise of Grant’s speech is that there are precrastinators and there are procrastinators (precrastinators, according to Grant, are evidently a real thing, and although my spellcheck is underlining it now, they are supposedly people who don’t wait to last minute at all, they’re people who ‘do’ as absolutely early as possible.) The unique conclusion being that procrastination, when used correctly, is actually a virtue for creativity and originality.
Grant approaches the topic reasonably, that typical society rewards the precrastinators, who ‘do’ immediately, rather than the procrastinators who ‘wait’ until last minute. Makes sense so far. What Grant hypothesizes next is where the revolutionary part comes in, that the best originators actually are not the precrastinators, they’re the people who are located somewhere in between the pre and pro ‘crastinators. This is where Grant deems to be ‘the sweet spot, that originals seem to live’ (which, I think he must have stolen from me, because it’s also the title of this article)!
It seems that most of the great ‘originals’ who have great ideas are ‘quick to start, but slow to finish’. What exactly does that mean? It means that originals get started on their ideas quickly – they implement, they do, and they execute…but they also take their time not to finish too early and miss a large portion of taking something from a great concept to a revolutionary masterpiece. They have a great idea and they set it in motion, but before they stamp their work as ‘done’, they take their time to insure its ‘right’.
I certainly don’t think that I’m anywhere close to Grant’s level of insightfulness (as you’ll see from how I ‘noticed’ this concept in action and implemented it in my own life), but I do believe that I have experienced something like this in business and work and have put it into working place, which is 7/8 of the battle. The difference between Grant’s originality in academia and my practicality in life, is that Grant discovered the theory and I stole mine from the movie ‘The Addams Family’, specifically, where Gomez and his attorney discuss a system that they call ‘new business’ and ‘old business’. In this model, new business is anything they need to ultimately discuss and decide on, but that just came up and thus, must wait. Old business is new business that has been sitting around for an unspecified amount of time and ultimately will need discussed and decided upon.
In my life, I have definitely been a precrastinator. I had ideas and from those ideas, I did. Really not a bad thing at all and something that I truly love about myself…as Grant also details, original thinkers understand that the biggest regrets in life are not actions, but inactions. I digress though, as I originated and ultimately ‘did’ more and more ideas, I realized that some of my ideas were a little more ‘out there’ than others, and probably weren’t even great concepts at all. They were kind of silly and shouldn’t have been done (just some though!) The problem was, I was so good at jumping in and doing, by the time I realized they were not good ideas, I was already done with them and they had cost me precious resources. Some of this was able to be slowed by bouncing the ideas off of others, but for those of us who thrive in the land of growth, sometimes even that can’t stop us.
Once I realized what was going on, I created a very simple method of ‘checking’ myself and my ideas, but not stopping or stymieing growth in any way. I created two folders which sit prominently on my desk. One is labeled ‘new business’ and, you guessed it, the other, ‘old business’. Every time I have a new idea (usually when I’m driving, exercising, showering, etc), I send an email to myself or jot myself a quick note on it. When I have a couple minutes to write it down, I give it a little more description and narration (no more than a couple minutes), and then tear the page out and put it in the ‘new business’ folder. At the end of each week, I take all the ideas from the ‘new business’ folder and transfer them to the ‘old business’ folder. Every two weeks I review the ideas from the ‘old business’ folder and determine the next steps. Each review period, about 1/3 of the ‘old business’ ideas are good enough and I still agree with them enough that I begin to undertake them (usually with some level of newly understood sophistication or development). Another 1/3 of the ideas are bad and I am glad I held off, so I throw them away. The final 1/3, I just don’t know, don’t have time for, or can’t justify the time of beginning at that time, but it may be worth considering in the future. Sometimes that final 1/3 gets initiated down the road, sometimes it gets trashed, and sometimes it just keeps getting pushed out…not because of procrastination, just because I am unable to determine if it’s a good use of resources yet.
Perhaps some other time I’ll devote more time to my thoughts on why the whole ‘sweet spot, where originals live’ is the way it is, but, in short, my belief stems around the subconscious part of our brain and our ability to let things ‘bake’ or ‘marinate’ without devoting too much time or computational resources toward them. Consciously, we go about our daily ‘doing’, while all along, having those ideas sitting on the back-burner ‘simmering’ but still being grown and modified through all of life’s waking and sleeping hours. The more the idea cooks, the more it changes shape, or at least the environments around it change shape and ultimately change the consistency of the dish itself. I guess it’s a long winded way of saying that we understand more about our idea even if we’re not actively thinking about our idea. The idea either subconsciously grows and evolves into a bigger, badder, better idea, or we (again, subconsciously), begin to realize that our idea wasn’t very good in the first place and we scrap it.
This system helps me be ‘quick to start, slow to finish’, just as Adam Grant so wisely proclaimed. The key to all of this is really understanding that being a little too much of either a pre or a pro ‘crastinator is no good. The sweet spot that Grant is referring to is what we have to hit on the money. If you have ideas on how to better this system or have some additional insights, I’d love to hear them, this is an area I really can get better at, so I’m always searching for ‘a better place to live’.