Surprising Habits of Creative People

April 4, 2016


In this Ted Talk, top-rated Wharton School professor and organizational psychologist Adam Grant admits feeling regret after declining to invest in the company one of his students started back in 2010. The company, Warby Parker, would go on to be a wild success, and be described as “the Netflix of eyewear” by GQ Magazine. Grant had every reason to believe the company would tank, and thus he set out to discover where his thinking went wrong. In his book entitled Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Grant investigates the counterintuitive habits of the people who dare to think outside of the box and then act on their ideas.

So what do these original thinkers have in common? Well, for starters Grant says, “They look nothing like I expected.” For one, individuals who procrastinate moderately rather than not at all or do so excessively were revealed to show the highest levels of creativity. While procrastination takes its toll on productivity levels, it “can be a virtue for creativity,” he explains. “There’s a sweet spot where originals seem to live,” where a distracted person starts incubating fresh ideas on how to approach a given task–and perhaps will need extra time to finish his or her project or goal. So, Grant learned that, “to be original you don’t have to be first. You just have to be different and better.” Seeing things this way might help you not be so hard on yourself for not yet having come through on your webisode idea, huh?

A lot of us would probably think a super confident person would be the best bet for coming up with winning ideas. But, as Grant would discover, another habit of creative people was they don’t suppress any doubts they have in the project at hand. An original thinker acknowledges all the defects of his or her ideas, and is able to address them one at a time–without confusing that doubt in the project with self-doubt. Say you have a number of conflicting ideas on how to approach a character, “the key to being original is just a simple thing,” Grant would argue, and that is to focus on ways to improve your character without passing judgement on yourself during the potentially untidy process.

This leads to the next surprising quality of creative people, and it’s that they come up with a lot of amateurish ideas. “I have some good news for you,” Grant assures us, “You are not going to get judged on your bad ideas.” Rather, he insists, it’s the times that people refrain from asserting themselves that does more damage in the long run. People tend to worry about embarrassing themselves, he argues, “But guess what? Originals have lots and lots of bad ideas–tons of them in fact.” He equate those who fail the most as being the most likely to come up with original ideas. After all, one of the best predictors of stumbling on a top-rate creative idea is the volume of work you put out. Sounds like a good reason to keep giving your best efforts on each and every audition you go on–regardless of the ones that don’t go as well as you’d hope.

In conclusion, if you feel fear, doubt your ideas, tend to procrastinate, and come up with unimpressive ideas…well, you very well could be on track to reaching your most creative goals and dreams. Don’t give up!