The Surprising (and Data-Verified) Habits of Successful Innovators

Creativity manifests itself in unexpected ways. For example: What Internet browser do you use?

Adam Grant gave Firefox and Chrome a big boost when he discussed what the answer to that question says about someone. During his TED Talk about the habits of original thinkers, he said there’s evidence that people who avoid the default “significantly outperform Internet Explorer and Safari users. Yes. They also stay in their jobs 15 percent longer.”

That’s not because of a technical advantage between browsers, either. And it does not mean people can get better at their job just by downloading a different one.

“Not quite the point, right?” Grant told NPR. “The point is: What browser you use signals something about the way that you tend to live your life. If you use Firefox or Chrome, you have to download those browsers, whereas Safari and Internet Explorer — they come pre-installed on your computer. They’re the default. And if you’re the kind of person who just accepts the default, you tend not to take as many original steps as the rest of us.”

So keep that very fine Safari browser installed, but spend a little time in the shower thinking about ways to do any given job better.

Grant also discussed the power of procrastination during his TED Talk, although what he calls procrastination lines up more with a quote he recalled from Aaron Sorkin: “You call it procrastinating. I call it thinking.”

At Agents of Efficiency, we call it thinking, too, and we also help people manage their time better so they can have more opportunities for those big ideas. That’s the basis for a powerful three-word business plan: “Do less, better.”

People who give themselves that time — whatever the word — allow themselves the chance to improvise. In that vein, Grant points out that it’s not that important to be a first-mover. It’s much more important to be an “improver.” Google improved upon AltaVista and Yahoo, while Facebook improved upon MySpace and Friendster. In fact, first movers fail 47 percent of the time versus 8 percent for improvers.

“To be original,” Grant said, “you don’t have to be first. You just have to be different and better.”

Being different and better isn’t that simple, though. Trying to do both always comes with doubt and fear.

Grant advises not letting go of the doubt that surrounds an idea. Treat that as incentive “to test, to experiment, to refine.” But let go of any doubt you might have about yourself.

The type of creative people Grant calls “Originals” also face their fears and push past them.

“Creativity is generating ideas that are novel and useful,” Grant told the New York Times. “I define ‘Originals’ as people who go beyond dreaming up the ideas, and take initiative to make their visions a reality. ”

What sets “Originals” apart in regard to fear, he said during his TED Talk, “is that they’re even more afraid of failing to try.”

There’s plenty of science to back up the idea that our biggest regrets aren’t the things we did but the things we didn’t do.

“If you look across industries and ask people about their biggest idea, their most important suggestion, 85 percent of them stayed silent instead of speaking up,” Grant said. “They were afraid of embarrassing themselves, of looking stupid.”

No entrepreneur can afford to back down from a great idea because of that fear. As Grant told the Times, “Geniuses don’t have better ideas than the rest of us. They just have more of them.”

And far more of those ideas were bad ideas than were brilliant — but they didn’t stop trying.

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


By Justin E. Crawford