Bad ideas and procrastination plague professional and students alike, but according to renowned author and professor Adam Grant, they may be the source of your next great idea.
Speaking at Monday night’s Authors@Wharton event, the charismatic Grant gave a preview of his new book Originals, which delves into the value of creativity and individuality.
“I’m interested in people who are proactive, who take initiative, who don’t just accept the status quo,” Grant said to a nearly full Harrison Auditorium in the Penn Museum. “Original people are nonconformists. They are people who drive creativity and change in the world.”
Grant, who was voted as Wharton’s best professor by his students for four years in a row, signed and sold copies of his second book after taking the stage for a lecture and moderated Q&A. Grant is a professor in management and in psychology at Wharton with research ranging from organizational change to motivation. He launched Authors@Wharton in 2012 and contributes regularly to the New York Times. His first book, New York Times bestseller Give and Take, explores the value of selflessness in work.
One of his biggest pieces of advice was to never stop coming up with ideas, citing a positive correlation between the number of ideas someone generates and his or her originality.
“[A study] came out recently said that your first 15 ideas are less creative than the next 20,” he said. “But most people never get to the next 20. They fall in love with the first idea.”
He also cited procrastination — often the enemy of the deadline-dreading college student — as a potential catalyst for creativity. When un-abused, Grant said, procrastination is also time to think, and that when he forced himself to procrastinate while writing “Originals,” he actually returned with better, more insightful ideas.
Even Leonardo da Vinci took years to perfect the Mona Lisa, he said, adding, “So if da Vinci could procrastinate, the rest of us probably could too.”
Grant, a self-proclaimed “pre-crastinator,” learned the veiled value of procrastinators the hard way.
“Years ago ... a student came up to me and said, ‘I’m thinking about starting a company with a few friends, do you want to invest?” Grant said. “He’s like, ‘We’re going to disrupt an industry; we’re going to sell stuff online.’”
After Grant learned that they had not thought the idea out completely and were not pursuing the startup full-time, conventional logic pushed him to decline the investment. Years later, the startup that would become Warby Parker is valued at over $1 billion and was called the “Netflix of eyewear” by GQ.
“I asked him what he thought when I turned him down. He said, ‘No, we weren’t upset! What does a guy with a Ph.D. know about starting a business?’” Grant said to laughter and applause.
The audience, some of whom were his former students, praised Grant for his insights about both.
“Adam was phenomenal. I’m really excited to read his new book,” Wharton senior Garrett Breeden said. “I was in his Management 238 class and just wanted to see what kind of ideas were in this book and was absolutely fascinated by what he had to say.”
Students particularly gravitated to his advice regarding finding an original, creative way to approach the professional world.
“It was really good. Basically he said it’s easy to follow the standard path, but if you want to create a unique impact in the world, you need to take risks,” College and Engineering junior Nick Cherukuri said.