You know that panic you feel before a big deadline? I know it well because I’m a procrastinator. It’s the impending doom when you realize that you haven’t done anything to prepare, haven’t written anything, haven’t built the spreadsheet, or the presentation.
Why do we tend to procrastinate? Is it because we just don’t want to do the project or is it because in the back of our minds we’re actually looking for the next big idea?
I’m arguing for the procrastinator, not because I am one, but because I believe that we’re able to come up with better, more innovative solutions by working under pressure.
I recently watched a Ted Talk that featured Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist. His presentation is focused on us, the ones that wait until the final moments to produce. He actually calls people like us nonconformists, “people who not only have new ideas but take action to champion them. They are people who stand out and speak up. ‘Originals’ drive creativity and change in the world. They’re the people you want to bet on.”
He also calls himself a “precrastinator,” one that rushes in and does everything early. But what’s the downside of that? Well, his research has shown the moderate procrastinator finds a sweet spot between where to jump in and start versus waiting until 10 minutes prior to the deadline. Moderate procrastinators, although rushed, live in this sweet spot and are surprisingly effective and dynamic—proving that performance doesn’t mean that you need to start early.
This doesn’t mean that us “originals” don’t fail—we come up with loads of bad ideas. And although we originals look confident on the surface; we’re still feeling the same fear that others face. We just manage it differently. It’s just how the creative process works for us. But we need to be self-aware and put our self-doubt aside, because in the end game we’re not judged by our bad ideas. We’re actually recognized for our brilliant ideas, which come to the table often.
If originals are tasked to come up with a solution to a problem, we will naturally not hop right on it. And, whether we know it or not, we’re already thinking about it, it’s active in the back of our minds. We incubate, we debate, and toss ideas around subconsciously. Procrastination, indeed, gives us time to consider divergent ideas and to think in nonlinear ways to find the answers to tough questions.
Are we missing the first mover advantage? Not at all—it’s a myth.
There’s a classic study of over 50 product categories, comparing the first movers who created the market with the improvers who introduced something different and better. The study found that the first movers failed 47% of the time, as opposed to only 8% for the improvers.
Look at Facebook as an example, they watched Myspace, and then took the time to determine and uncover the concept that would eventually define and drive social media as a whole. And I think that we can agree that Facebook has experienced leaps and bounds in developing something that has become an integral part of our lives—it’s our social network, it’s where we turn when we want to learn about what’s happening out there in the world.
So maybe the lesson learned here is that originals thrive under pressure and we don’t seek to be first. We realize that we just need to be different and better.
As Aaron Sorkin put it, “You call it procrastinating. I call it thinking.” And Grant looks at procrastinators, through his large lens of experience, and sees that although we may not be quick to start, being slow to finish really pays off.
We’re motivated to try harder, to experiment, to revolutionize, and then produce. Grant points to MLK. He waited to finish his famous speech until the wee hours of the night and in fact moved off script during the speech. Unexpectedly he said, “I have a dream,” which as we know is one of the most profound statements in history. It was off the cuff and yet it mesmerized our country and positioned him as one of the revolutionary figures of our time.
So, after considering my argument, don’t make the mistake of seeing procrastinators in a negative light. And never count out the original because we make a world of difference. We just need a ton of bad ideas in order to peel the onion to find the great ones.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” –Steve Jobs