RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We turn now to a story about a missed opportunity. Several years ago, Adam Grant was approached to become an early investor in Warby Parker - you know, the first startup to sell eyeglasses online. Grant is a management consultant who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania's business school. So he spends his days looking at who and what makes successful businesses. In his new book, "Originals: How Non-conformists Move The World," Grant details how he decided not to invest in Warby Parker. He says it was because the founders were doing this startup thing part-time. And he wasn't sure they were committed.
ADAM GRANT: I thought to be an entrepreneur, you have to be a risk-taker and you have to be all in.
GRANT: And what I didn't realize at the time was, first of all, successful entrepreneurs are much more likely to play it safe and have backup plans than failed entrepreneurs. And secondly, all of the time they spent working on other things was giving them the freedom to do something really original. If they had - if they had just gone in and started the company, they would have felt the pressure to release their product immediately. Instead, they had the time to figure out that they needed a home try-on program to get people to make the leap and order glasses online.
MARTIN: Something I thought was interesting in the book, you say that original thinkers are more likely to challenge the status quo. That's kind of obvious. But it extends to just even very basic behaviors.
GRANT: Oh, I love this study. So I'm sitting at a conference one day, and this economist, Mike Housman, presents a study showing that we can predict your job performance and your commitment at work just by knowing what web browser you use. And I was stunned to find out that people who use Chrome and Firefox, this is in, like, customer service and call center jobs, were better performers on the job. They also, on average, stayed around in those jobs 15 percent longer than their poor Internet Explorer and Safari peers. And a lot of people hear this study and think, well, great. If I want to get better at my job, I should just download a new browser.
GRANT: Not quite the point, right? 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. If you're somebody who had that instinct to say, you know, I wonder if there's a better browser out there, that's just a tiny clue that you might be the kind of person who's willing to reject other defaults in your life too.
MARTIN: You say that if you're stuck in a job you don't like, instead of just quitting, the original thinker will try to figure out how to redefine the job description in order to make it a more satisfying experience. How does that work?
GRANT: Yeah. It's called job crafting. So a couple of colleagues and I studied this at Google. And we found that there were all sorts of ways that they could make modifications to their own jobs that made them more meaningful, more motivating and still allowed them to be very effective. There was one person who really, really hated working on spreadsheets. And she found someone else in her team who loved spreadsheets. And they were able to do a little bit of a task swap.
MARTIN: That sounds great. But oftentimes, people have to make a case to a manager about why, you know - I don't like to do spreadsheet, so I don't want to do them. I'm going to find someone else to do them.
GRANT: I think that you have to earn status before you can exercise that kind of power. So what that means is you have to demonstrate that you're excelling in your job at first. And then, what most managers do, is they give leeway if you've ended up being a star performer.
MARTIN: You say in the book that experience isn't necessarily a good thing when trying to cultivate creativity or original thinking. How so?
GRANT: I think this happens to all of us. The more familiar you become with the domain, the more you tend to see things just like everyone else and get stuck or entrenched in one particular way of doing things. So if you study, for example, fashion designers, the most original fashion collections come from the designers who have not only traveled abroad but who have spent the most time working abroad in countries that are maximally different from their own. Of course, not everyone is going to go work abroad, but is there a chance to rotate to a different job and gain a little bit of familiarity with the skill that you haven't tested before? That's the kind of stretching that helps people ultimately become more original.
MARTIN: But it's also kind of daunting, right? Like, we're ingrained with this idea that you need to develop an expertise. You need to be good at something. And that's what society values, especially if you're in the middle-to-late stages of a career.
GRANT: But you'll find that practice makes perfect. Unfortunately, though, it doesn't make new. And I think that we can all find ways to break out of the frame of repeating something over and over again until we've mastered it. A lot of times, it doesn't even happen in our jobs. So if you study Nobel Prize-winning scientists, one of the things that differentiates them from their peers is that they're way more likely to have artistic hobbies. Galileo is one of my favorite examples of this. He was the first to spot mountains on the moon. And he was looking through a telescope at an image that many of his peers had seen as well. The only reason he spotted it was because he was trained in a particular drawing technique that led him to recognize some of the patterns as mountains. And I think there are all kind of connections we can draw between artistic engagement and the actual work we do, if only we paid attention to them.
MARTIN: Adam Grant, his book is "Originals: How Non-conformists Move The World." Thanks so much for talking with us, Adam.
GRANT: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.