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  • Seven years ago, a student came to me and asked me to invest in his company.

  • He said, "I'm working with three friends,

  • and we're going to try to disrupt an industry by selling stuff online."

  • And I said, "OK, you guys spent the whole summer on this, right?"

  • "No, we all took internships just in case it doesn't work out."

  • "All right, but you're going to go in full time once you graduate."

  • "Not exactly. We've all lined up backup jobs."

  • Six months go by,

  • it's the day before the company launches,

  • and there is still not a functioning website.

  • "You guys realize, the entire company is a website.

  • That's literally all it is."

  • So I obviously declined to invest.

  • And they ended up naming the company Warby Parker.

  • (Laughter)

  • They sell glasses online.

  • They were recently recognized as the world's most innovative company

  • and valued at over a billion dollars.

  • And now? My wife handles our investments.

  • Why was I so wrong?

  • To find out, I've been studying people that I come to call "originals."

  • Originals are 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.

  • And they look nothing like I expected.

  • I want to show you today three things I've learned

  • about recognizing originals

  • and becoming a little bit more like them.

  • So the first reason that I passed on Warby Parker

  • was they were really slow getting off the ground.

  • Now, you are all intimately familiar with the mind of a procrastinator.

  • Well, I have a confession for you. I'm the opposite. I'm a precrastinator.

  • Yes, that's an actual term.

  • You know that panic you feel a few hours before a big deadline

  • when you haven't done anything yet.

  • I just feel that a few months ahead of time.

  • (Laughter)

  • So this started early: when I was a kid, I took Nintendo games very seriously.

  • I would wake up at 5am,

  • start playing and not stop until I had mastered them.

  • Eventually it got so out of hand that a local newspaper came

  • and did a story on the dark side of Nintendo, starring me.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • Since then, I have traded hair for teeth.

  • (Laughter)

  • But this served me well in college,

  • because I finished my senior thesis four months before the deadline.

  • And I was proud of that, until a few years ago.

  • I had a student named Jihae, who came to me and said,

  • "I have my most creative ideas when I'm procrastinating."

  • And I was like, "That's cute, where are the four papers you owe me?"

  • (Laughter)

  • No, she was one of our most creative students,

  • and as an organizational psychologist, this is the kind of idea that I test.

  • So I challenged her to get some data.

  • She goes into a bunch of companies.

  • She has people fill out surveys about how often they procrastinate.

  • Then she gets their bosses to rate how creative and innovative they are.

  • And sure enough, the precrastinators like me,

  • who rush in and do everything early

  • are rated as less creative

  • than people who procrastinate moderately.

  • So I want to know what happens to the chronic procrastinators.

  • She was like, "I don't know. They didn't fill out my survey."

  • (Laughter)

  • No, here are our results.

  • You actually do see that the people who wait until the last minute

  • are so busy goofing off that they don't have any new ideas.

  • And on the flip side, the people who race in

  • are in such a frenzy of anxiety that they don't have original thoughts either.

  • There's a sweet spot where originals seem to live.

  • Why is this?

  • Maybe original people just have bad work habits.

  • Maybe procrastinating does not cause creativity.

  • To find out, we designed some experiments.

  • We asked people to generate new business ideas,

  • and then we get independent readers

  • to evaluate how creative and useful they are.

  • And some of them are asked to do the task right away.

  • Others we randomly assign to procrastinate

  • by dangling Minesweeper in front of them

  • for either five or 10 minutes.

  • And sure enough, the moderate procrastinators

  • are 16 percent more creative than the other two groups.

  • Now, Minesweeper is awesome, but it's not the driver of the effect,

  • because if you play the game first before you learn about the task,

  • there's no creativity boost.

  • It's only when you're told that you're going to be working on this problem,

  • and then you start procrastinating,

  • but the task is still active in the back of your mind,

  • that you start to incubate.

  • Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas,

  • to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.

  • So just as we were finishing these experiments,

  • I was starting to write a book about originals,

  • and I thought, "This is the perfect time to teach myself to procrastinate,

  • while writing a chapter on procrastination."

  • So I metaprocrastinated,

  • and like any self-respecting precrastinator,

  • I woke up early the next morning

  • and I made a to-do list with steps on how to procrastinate.

  • (Laughter)

  • And then I worked diligently

  • toward my goal of not making progress toward my goal.

  • I started writing the procrastination chapter,

  • and one day -- I was halfway through --

  • I literally put it away in mid-sentence

  • for months.

  • It was agony.

  • But when I came back to it, I had all sorts of new ideas.

  • As Aaron Sorkin put it,

  • "You call it procrastinating. I call it thinking."

  • And along the way I discovered

  • that a lot of great originals in history were procrastinators.

  • Take Leonardo da Vinci.

  • He toiled on and off for 16 years

  • on the Mona Lisa.

  • He felt like a failure.

  • He wrote as much in his journal.

  • But some of the diversions he took in optics

  • transformed the way that he modeled light

  • and made him into a much better painter.

  • What about Martin Luther King, Jr.?

  • The night before the biggest speech of his life,

  • the March on Washington,

  • he was up past 3am, rewriting it.

  • He's sitting in the audience waiting for his turn to go onstage,

  • and he is still scribbling notes and crossing out lines.

  • When he gets onstage, 11 minutes in,

  • he leaves his prepared remarks

  • to utter four words that changed the course of history:

  • "I have a dream."

  • That was not in the script.

  • By delaying the task of finalizing the speech until the very last minute,

  • he left himself open to the widest range of possible ideas.

  • And because the text wasn't set in stone,

  • he had freedom to improvise.

  • Procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity,

  • but it can be a virtue for creativity.

  • What you see with a lot of great originals

  • is that they are quick to start but they're slow to finish.

  • And this is what I missed with Warby Parker.

  • When they were dragging their heels for six months,

  • I looked at them and said,

  • "You know, a lot of other companies are starting to sell glasses online."

  • They missed the first-mover advantage.

  • But what I didn't realize was they were spending all that time

  • trying to figure out how to get people

  • to be comfortable ordering glasses online.

  • And it turns out the first-mover advantage is mostly a myth.

  • Look at 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.

  • What you see is that the first movers had a failure rate of 47 percent,

  • compared with only 8 percent for the improvers.

  • Look at Facebook, waiting to build a social network

  • until after Myspace and Friendster.

  • Look at Google, waiting for years after Altavista and Yahoo.

  • It's much easier to improve on somebody else's idea

  • than it is to create something new from scratch.

  • So the lesson I learned is that to be original you don't have to be first.

  • You just have to be different and better.

  • But that wasn't the only reason I passed on Warby Parker.

  • They were also full of doubts.

  • They had backup plans lined up,

  • and that made me doubt that they had the courage to be original,

  • because I expected that originals would look something like this.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, on the surface,

  • a lot of original people look confident,

  • but behind the scenes,

  • they feel the same fear and doubt that the rest of us do.

  • They just manage it differently.

  • Let me show you: this is a depiction

  • of how the creative process works for most of us.

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, in my research, I discovered there are two different kinds of doubt.

  • There's self-doubt and idea doubt.

  • Self-doubt is paralyzing.

  • It leads you to freeze.

  • But idea doubt is energizing.

  • It motivates you to test, to experiment, to refine,

  • just like MLK did.

  • And so the key to being original

  • is just a simple thing

  • of avoiding the leap from step three to step four.

  • Instead of saying, "I'm crap,"

  • you say, "The first few drafts are always crap,

  • and I'm just not there yet."

  • So how do you get there?

  • Well, there's a clue, it turns out,

  • in the Internet browser that you use.

  • We can predict your job performance and your commitment

  • just by knowing what web browser you use.

  • Now, some of you are not going to like the results of this study --

  • (Laughter)

  • But there is good evidence that Firefox and Chrome users

  • significantly outperform Internet Explorer and Safari users.

  • Yes.

  • (Applause)

  • They also stay in their jobs 15 percent longer, by the way.

  • Why? It's not a technical advantage.

  • The four browser groups on average have similar typing speed

  • and they also have similar levels of computer knowledge.

  • It's about how you got the browser.

  • Because if you use Internet Explorer or Safari,

  • those came preinstalled on your computer,

  • and you accepted the default option that was handed to you.

  • If you wanted Firefox or Chrome, you had to doubt the default

  • and ask, is there a different option out there,

  • and then be a little resourceful and download a new browser.

  • So people hear about this study and they're like,

  • "Great, if I want to get better at my job, I just need to upgrade my browser?"

  • (Laughter)

  • No, it's about being the kind of person

  • who takes the initiative to doubt the default

  • and look for a better option.

  • And if you do that well,

  • you will open yourself up to the opposite of déjà vu.

  • There's a name for it. It's called vuja de.

  • (Laughter)

  • Vuja de is when you look at something you've seen many times before

  • and all of a sudden see it with fresh eyes.

  • It's a screenwriter who looks at a movie script

  • that can't get the green light for more than half a century.

  • In every past version, the main character has been an evil queen.

  • But Jennifer Lee starts to question whether that makes sense.

  • She rewrites the first act,

  • reinvents the villain as a tortured hero

  • and Frozen becomes the most successful animated movie ever.

  • So there's a simple message from this story.

  • When you feel doubt, don't let it go.

  • (Laughter)

  • What about fear?

  • Originals feel fear, too.

  • They're afraid of failing,

  • but what sets them apart from the rest of us

  • is that they're even more afraid of failing to try.

  • They know you can fail by starting a business that goes bankrupt

  • or by failing to start a business at all.

  • They know that in the long run, our biggest regrets are not our actions

  • but our inactions.

  • The things we wish we could redo, if you look at the science,

  • are the chances not taken.

  • Elon Musk told me recently, he didn't expect Tesla to succeed.