Organizational psychologist Adam Grant passed on the opportunity to invest in the startup his student was launching.


innovative thinkers


Main reason was because he and his co-founders were unorganized, less-than-dedicated procrastinators. That company, now known as Warby Parker, was recently rewarded as the most innovative company by Fast Company, and now Ms. Grant handles the couple’s investments. 


Question is how these students who showed little promise, managed to grow such a disruptive company? This attract Mr. Grant’s interest and prompted him to begin studying “originals” and what makes them tick.


“Innovative thinkers are nonconformists, people who not only have new ideas but take action to champion them. They’re people who are not afraid to stand out and speak up. Innovative thinkers are drive by creativity and change in the world.


Throughout his research, Mr. Grant finds out a few surprising habits of innovative thinkers.


1. They’re always late to the party


In college, Mr. Grant finished his thesis paper four months before the deadline. Along with it when he was a kid, he woke up at 5 AM to practice Nintendo games until he mastered them. This led a local newspaper to profile him for a story called “The Dark Side of Nintendo.” Unlike himself, who is considered a precrastinator, Mr. Grant discovered that innovative thinkers are major procrastinators.




“I had a student named Jihee, who came to me and said ‘I have my most creative ideas when I’m procrastinating’ and I was like “Ok, that’s cute”. Where are the four papers you owe me?’” She was one of his most innovative and creative students, so he challenged her to get some evidence and data. She surveyed people on their procrastination habits and then got their bosses to note how creative they are. The precrastinators were described  those who procrastinate moderately.


Next, Mr. Grant designed some analyzes to see if the relationship between procrastination and creativity is simply a correlation or if the former actually causes the latter. He asked respondents to generate new business ideas, tasking some to do it right away and others to do it 10 minutes later. When independent raters evaluate them, those who procrastinated by playing Minesweeper for five minutes (as opposed to doing it right away or playing for 10) were rated as 16 % more creative. And it wasn’t because of Minesweeper itself, the creativity and innovation boost only occurs when you procrastinate after learning about the task.


2. They’re the improvers, not the movers


Fortification about first leader advantage is a myth. According to a study that looked at over 50 product categories, those first who were first on the market, failed 47 % of the time, while improvers failed only 8 % of the time.


Mr. Grant didn’t think his student’s e-commerce eye-wear company would succeed. He took too long and got beat to market, but that’s because he was taking the time to do it creatively and in a way that would make customers comfortable with buying glasses online. “To be original and innovative, you don’t have to be first. You just have to be different and better.”


innovative thinkers


3. They have a lot of doubts


Mr. Grant also passed on Warby Parker because the founders were very doubtful. Instead of going all-in working on the startup, they all took internships over the summer, in case it didn’t work out. All of them lined up full-time positions for after graduation as well.




“On the surface, a lot of innovative thinkers look confident, but behind the scenes, they feel the same fear and doubt that the rest of us do. They just handle it differently,” Mr. Grant said, explaining that innovators succumb more to idea doubt rather than self-doubt, which actually leads them to experiment and refine. Martin Luther King Jr. is the perfect example. The night before the March on Washington, he was up past 4 AM rewriting his speech. Moments before showing up to the podium, he was still scribbling notes and crossing out lines. Eleven minutes into his speech, he went off script and said “I have a dream,” which was not in the initial script.


4. What really scares them is failing to try


“Innovative thinkers feel fear too,” Mr. Grant said. “They’re afraid of failing, but what sets them apart from the rest of us is that they’re more afraid of failing to try. They know you can fail by opening a startup that goes bankrupt or by failing to start a business at all.” He added that Elon Musk recently told him he was sure SpaceX would fail to make it to orbit let alone get back, but it was too essential not to try. 


“If you look across fields, the greatest innovators are the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most,” Mr. Grant said.