How can we identify a truly great idea?
Psychologist and Wharton School professor Adam Grant has been exploring this question ever since he turned down the opportunity to invest in a fledgling business started by some of his students. He didn’t think it would be worth the time and money; didn’t think the business would ever get off the ground.
Online glasses retailer Warby Parker launched in 2010, and has since topped the Fast Company list of most innovative companies multiple times. It is currently valued at $1.75 billion USD.
In his 2016 TED speak, The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers, Grant explains what led him to overlook the potential of Warby Parker’s founders, and how others can avoid making the same mistakes. While he addresses the issue from an external perspective, there are three fantastic (some may even call them crazy, but bear with us) tips found within for those seeking to develop and identify their own great ideas.
Mark Twain once said that there is no such thing as an original idea. That each idea is a sliver of coloured glass in a kaleidoscope, turned in such a way to form a new pattern that alludes to originality.
If that’s the case, imagine great thinkers as those people who take their time turning the kaleidoscope, considering each mozaic’s strengths and weaknesses before deciding which is best.
One day before Warby Parker was set to launch, its website wasn’t ready. Grant saw this as a failure, as confirmation of the concerns he’d felt when initially asked to invest. The truth was that the founders didn’t think they were ready to launch, so they didn’t. Sure, there were already companies online selling glasses, but showing up early to the game didn’t mean their competitors were guaranteed to knock it out of the park.
Much more critical to success is the ability to be patient and considerate. We’ve discussed it before – taking time to diffuse your brain while considering an important idea allows you to be more innovative than when you make quick, instinctual decisions.
Sure, procrastination is a vice for productivity, but it’s a virtue for creativity. And it’s the latter from which greatness is borne.
2) Hold Onto Fear and Doubt
Sounds weird, right? Yet an original thinker appreciates the important roles fear and doubt play in the process.
Anyone who has dared to pursue excellence knows the feeling of failure that lurks like a storm cloud over their work. It’s enough to make some rush to the ending in an attempt to escape its shadow, while others quickly give up entirely.
A great thinker knows that doubt marks the starting line for improvement. They know that any great work takes time, and commitment.
Most importantly, they don’t take fear and doubt personally. Instead of saying “I suck”, they say “this needs improvement”. The difference is minor, but the shift in mindset it represents is tremendous.
As Grant notes, it’s not trying and failing, but not trying at all that scares great thinkers the most.
Whether the end result is a success or not is almost irrelevant. Why?
3) Come up With Bad Ideas
The majority of great thinkers are not auteurs. They are not born with any more ability to produce excellence than anyone else.
What sets them apart is the work.
Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first gig on television, and worked on low-rated talk shows before finding success.
Walt Disney started many businesses that went bankrupt after being told he lacked imagination.
Akio Morita started electronics giant Sony by selling rice cookers that were derided for their tendency to burn rather than cook rice.
These people, and people like them, tried, and failed, and tried again.
They generated a vast amount of ideas. Some work, some don’t, and occasionally, some come to redefine the world. But that’s only possible because of all the attempts that came before, and the understand that one, two, or a dozen bad ideas didn’t indicate a failure.
Superficially, these three tips might seem almost counter-intuitive, but they lay the basis for the creativity and commitment that makes excellence possible. Trust in their power, apply them to your process, and greatness will come.