With all the advice out there about how to stop procrastinating, it’s fair to say most of us think of procrastination as a barrier to success.
But as Adam Grant, a professor of management at Wharton and author of the new book, “Originals,” tells Business Insider, procrastination is actually a powerful tool used by some of the most innovative thinkers — including two of Apple’s cofounders, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
Grant explains that historically, there were actually two ways people talked about procrastination.
There was how most people think of procrastination today, where it’s tied to laziness and apathy. But in Ancient Egypt, people also defined procrastination as, “Waiting for the right time.” This is an idea that great thinkers and creators like Steve Jobs embraced, Grant says.
According to Grant, research suggests that procrastination is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it’s actually a virtue for creativity.
“The time Steve Jobs was putting things off and noodling on possibilities was time well spent in letting more divergent ideas come to the table, as opposed to diving right in with the most conventional, the most obvious, the most familiar,” he tells Business Insider.
There are ways we can all strategically procrastinate.
According to research by Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, once we finish a task, we stop thinking about it — but when it’s interrupted and left undone, it stays active in our minds. Procrastinating strategically means stopping whatever creative tasks we’re working on before they’re complete to allow more creative ideas to bubble up, “making gradual progress by testing and refining different possibilities,” as Grant writes in his book.
“I’m not saying you should just put things off forever, because then nothing ever gets done,” he says. “But there are lots of ways that pausing in the middle of a project can encourage people to take a step back and reevaluate, ‘Is there another direction that might work for this?'”
Wozniak also “waited for the right time” when it came to quitting his day job. He continued working full-time as a Hewlett-Packard engineer for a year after inventing the Apple I computer and starting the company with Jobs. Even after an angel investor said he would invest $250,000 to bankroll Apple in 1977, but only if Wozniak left HP, the cofounder still wanted to refuse, though Jobs finally helped him change his mind.
Grant says many successful people have put off quitting their day jobs as a way of hedging their bets and managing their risk, and research shows that people who do this are 33% less likely to fail than those who quit their day jobs to start their business.
“It turns out most successful originals are just as cautious as the rest of us,” he tells Business Insider. “They hate to lose money, they hate to have low odds of success, and what they often do is, when they know they have to take a gamble in one domain, they will offset that by being really safe in another domain.”
“I think the idea of delaying is something we all need to be comfortable with, because you can’t rush creativity,” Grant says.
Third Apple cofounder Ronald Wayne may have done well to embrace procrastination. His hasty decision to sell his 10% share of Apple less than two weeks after the company’s founding has cost him an estimated $62 billion.
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