B2B Book Review: Get Original with Ideas, Risks & Procrastination

Following the herd isn’t the best business plan.  Neither is being an extreme risk-taker. Finding the right balance between playing it safe and innovation is key.

Episode 121:  B2B Book Review: Get Original with Ideas, Risks & Procrastination

I can honestly say that this is one of the best business books I have ever read. You know it’s good when you’ve highlighted 223 passages in your Kindle edition.

That’s what Adam Grant tells us in Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, a best selling business culture book on Amazon.

I can honestly say that this is one of the best business books I have ever read. You know it’s good when you’ve highlighted 223 passages in your Kindle edition.

The book has great insight for researchers and stakeholders of all kinds. Whether you’re a VP of sales, a marketer, or in product development, this book has something for you.

Hence we’ve picked “Originals” to be the focus of this article and the related B2B Market Research podcast episode.  If you prefer to listen to that episode you can do so below.

The Premise

Here’s the premise for the book: several years ago, author Adam Grant was given the opportunity to invest in a company called Warby Parker, but he declined.

Warby Parker went on to be quite successful.

Grant declared that his choice not to invest in the company was the worst financial decision he had ever made. He needed to understand where he went wrong.

In the book, Grant shares some stories that pushed him to change the way he made decisions and the way he viewed entrepreneurs in general.

Originals

Non-Conformity Matters

One story is about an economist named Michael Houseman who was leading a project to figure out why some customer service agents stayed in their jobs longer than others. When his suspicion that a history of job hopping would lead to quitting sooner didn’t play out in the evidence, he looked for other explanations.

He noticed that his team had captured information about the Internet browsers that the customer service agents were using. On a whim, he tested whether this was related to their performance or how long they stayed in the job. He didn’t have high hopes for finding a correlation between Internet browser and length of time spent as a customer service agent at a certain company.

However, Houseman found that employees who used Firefox or Chrome remained in their jobs 15 percent longer. They generated significantly higher sales, their call times were shorter, and the customers were happier.

What did this mean? Well, Houseman realized it wasn’t the browser itself that was causing them to stick around. It also wasn’t a degree of technical skill that was at play.

The browser preference signaled something about employee habits: initiative.

The customer service agents with Macs usually stuck with the default browser Safari. Likewise, customer service agents with PCs tended to stay with the default of Internet Explorer.

In short, the initiative to change browsers was a key indication of who was going to be a standout employee and who wasn’t.

In short, the initiative to change browsers was a key indication of who was going to be a standout employee and who wasn’t.

What can we draw from this?

Basically, high performers tend to seek out new tools to do their job better.

Basically, high performers tend to seek out new tools to do their job better. They don’t just stick with what they’ve been given. Anyone in business should be thinking of how things could be done differently, more efficiently, more creatively, more thoroughly.

Hence, as researchers and stakeholders, we want to identify times when we have a habit of not thinking outside the box.

For example, as a stakeholder, do you tend to lean toward focus groups regardless of the business problem you want solved?  If the answer is yes, it would be valuable to consider when focus groups are the best solution and when another method may be better suited to get you the information you need.

As a researcher, before you wrap up your findings, consider what piece of information would have the power to derail your main research hypothesis. Think in terms of competitors, market conditions, or customer behavior.

Then, do your best to find that piece of information. You may realize it’s unattainable or doesn’t exist and you can proceed merrily along. Or, you find that information and you change your research. Only then should you feel you are truly done with the research.

Even Entrepreneurs “Pack a Chute”

In another part of the book, Grant describes his attempts to debunk the myth that originality requires extreme risk taking.

In another part of the book, Grant describes his attempts to debunk the myth that originality requires extreme risk taking.

In the Warby Parker situation, Grant had seen that the founders were trying to get jobs even while they were launching their venture. They were still trying to finish their schooling. This didn’t seem to line up with a typical risk taking entrepreneur.

As the archetypal entrepreneur is typically seen as someone who bucks traditional wisdom to achieve unheard of success.

When someone says, “Are you entrepreneurial?” They are almost implicitly asking whether you are a risk-taker.

When someone says, “Are you entrepreneurial?” They are almost implicitly asking whether you are a risk-taker.

Going back to the example from the book, Grant found that the entrepreneurs who hedged their bets were typically were more successful. In fact, the book explains that entrepreneurs who kept their day jobs had 33 percent lower odds of failure than those who quit.

Grant shares several examples of well-known entrepreneurs playing it safe while innovating:

  • “Former track star Phil Knight started selling running shoes out of the trunk of his car in 1964, yet kept working as an accountant until 1969,” Grant says.
  • “After inventing the original Apple I computer, Steve Wozniak started the company with Steve Jobs in 1976 but continued working full time in his engineering job at Hewlett-Packard until 1977,” Grant writes.
  • Larry Page and Sergey Brin, built an early version of Google while working through their PhD program. (Though they did eventually suspend their studies to focus on Google.)
  • In fact, Page was so risk adverse, he almost sold an early version of Google for less than $2 million in cash and stock in 1997. (We added this article link).

In Originals, Grant explains that this phenomenon boils down to something pretty simple: it’s not just about playing it safe, and it’s not just about taking risks.

Entrepreneurs need to have a balanced portfolio and security of investments that will be there (almost) no matter what. But a degree of risk is a necessary ingredient as well.

What does this mean for stakeholders? Sometimes, you’ll have to go against your gut.

Often when people get into senior leadership roles, they’re really good at pattern matching. They’ve spent decades in the game so they are at ease rapidly and intuitively deciding what to do. This is an area where market research can help. It can help leaders measure whether risks are good ones to take.

Say you’ve got a new type of buyer you’d like to go after. Market research can help you understand the amount of effort you might have to apply to get to that type of customer via buyer persona research or key buying criteria research.

In short, a market researcher’s job, at least in part, is to help you be analytical about the correct amount of risk to take.

In short, a market researcher’s job, at least in part, is to help you be analytical about the correct amount of risk to take.

Greater Quantity Leads to Better Quality

Grant also has a really unique take on innovation, which he shares in the book.

He bases it off the work of Dean Simonton.  Simonton did some very interesting research on creative geniuses. He realized that they weren’t qualitatively better at generating new ideas compared to their peers. Instead, he found that creative geniuses actually produce a greater volume of work over time.  It was this fact that gave them the greatest chance at developing an idea that was highly original.

We see this with Shakespeare. Everybody is familiar with a small number of his classics. We forget that over the span of two decades he produced 37 plays and 154 sonnets. Not all of which we remember today.

Often it’s assumed that there is this trade-off between quantity and quality. If you want to do better work, you should do less of it so you can perfect what you’ve got. But if you’re trying to be original, that theory doesn’t pan out.

Stanford professor Robert Sutton also realized that when it comes to originality in idea generation, quantity was more important than quality. If you’re wondering how that could be, well, there is simply more ideas to choose from.

Many people fail to achieve originality because they generate a few ideas and then obsess about refining them to perfection.

Grant writes, “Many people fail to achieve originality because they generate a few ideas and then obsess about refining them to perfection.”

So how can stakeholders and researchers benefit from these insights?

As a stakeholder, it’s good to ask yourself how often you are open to true experimentation:

  • How often are you running from your standard playbook of ideas and strategies?
  • How often have you tested whether those ideas, strategies, and perceptions are still valid?

B2B Market research can obviously help you answer these questions.

For B2B market researchers, it’s also worthwhile to use these questions to consider the value of large tracking studies. You know, those studies that suck up a lot of the team’s time. They require feeding every quarter regardless of whether they’re actually generating the same ROI they once were.

So… how often are you doing experimental studies? How often are you looking at areas that aren’t so obvious for the business to focus on?

The Pros of Procrastination

Another fun point the book makes is that procrastination might help you to be more original in your thinking.

I was skeptical when I read this, since I had the long held belief that procrastination was the enemy of productivity. But this isn’t always true.

Grant writes that, “In ancient Egypt, there were two different verbs for procrastination: one denoted laziness; the other meant waiting for the right time.” These two types of procrastination have stuck around throughout history. For example, not everyone knows that Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t finish writing his famous “I Have a Dream” speech until the night before.

In another example, a study showed that CEO’s who rated themselves the lowest on efficiency and promptness, actually had the companies with the highest financial returns.

Hence, there is a bit of a correlation between people who generate a ton of ideas and procrastinators who get stuff done over an extended period of time.

Grant suggests that a good practice to start with is to generate a ton of ideas and don’t just polish one idea over and over again until it gleams. Then once you have a lot of ideas, allow yourself a bit of procrastination time. During that procrastination time, that large field of ideas can germinate into something original.

So again, how can researchers and stakeholders benefit?

With the above in mind, perhaps researchers should schedule a few read-outs rather than just one. Often, when scheduling 60-90 minute read-outs, the stakeholders just pop in for half an hour. That’s too short of a time for ideas to truly bloom.

…a stakeholder is much more likely to get insight and ideas from the research if they interact with the data multiple times over a period of days, weeks, or even months.

Instead, a stakeholder is much more likely to get insight and ideas from the research if they interact with the data multiple times over a period of days, weeks, or even months.

Researchers can facilitate a stakeholder’s continual engagement by splitting the findings into smaller presentations rather than just one huge package. The time between readouts can allow for and even encourage healthy procrastination over how to react to the findings.

Fittingly for the title, I found that this book gave me a lot of ideas for how to be more original and creative in how I approach business problems. I think this book is a valuable resource for any B2B business stakeholder or researcher willing to consider areas where they may be stuck in habits that are no longer serving them.

And tell your boss that procrastination is necessary for innovation. Just kidding. Sort of.

But do pick up a copy of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the  World, it’s a fantastic read.


This podcast is brought to you by Cascade Insights. We specialize in market research and competitive intelligence for B2B technology companies. Our focus allows us to deliver detailed insights that generalist firms simply can’t match. 

This is our second B2B book review. For a look at another B2B Book Review, take a look at our episode on Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.

Sean Campbell

Sean Campbell

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