Slowing down to speed up and failing in order to succeed

So here we are at the end of another year. And maybe like me, you’re looking back and taking stock, weighing up your successes and failures and seeing whether you’ve come out ahead.

But before you rush to judgement on those things that didn’t turn out as you hoped, take another look. Because getting things wrong could just be the key to getting them right. And procrastination might be your best friend.


Because if you’re not failing you’re not trying, and if you’re rushing headlong in, you might just be missing out on the advantage enjoyed by those who let the first wave pass.

That’s the good news from Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

His upbeat TED talk The surprising habits of original thinkers cheered me up no end as I cast a critical eye over my year. As a lifelong precrastinator (doing things long before they’re actually due) he was surprised to discover the positive effects of leaving it till the last minute. 

His research has led him to identify three traits of true original thinkers: 

  1. They’re late to the party. 
  2. They feel doubt and fear. 
  3. They have lots of ideas.

His talk explores the sweet spot between pre- and procrastination, drawing on examples from Leonardo da Vinci to Facebook via Martin Luther King. Being quick to start and slow to finish can give you a big advantage over those who polish off their work in record time and move on to the next task. 

He talks about the psychology of web browsers (if you’re a Firefox or Chrome user, you’re in for some good news) and why people aren’t judged on their bad ideas, but their good ones. And he draws a very clear link between volume of output and originality, whether it’s Bach, Beethoven or Thomas Edison. 

You’ll also find out how he failed to spot original thinking himself and missed out on the opportunity to get in on the ground floor in a billion-dollar company. 

The surprising habits of original thinkers is a smidgen over 15 minutes, and it’s time well spent as you turn your mind to all those resolutions that kick in next week.

And do remember when it’s this time next year and you’re doing it all over again, don’t be too hard on yourself. Because failure is the new success, and late is the new early. 

Happy New Year to you.

[If you’re reading this in an email, click here to see the talk on]