Author Adam Grant on Loving Harry Potter and Why Procrastination Is Great

I was lucky enough to get to speak with Adam Grant, the New York Times best-selling author and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. His previous book, Give and Take, helped highlight the power of generosity as an amplifier for success. In his just-released book Originals, Grant shares what he’s gleaned from researching some of the world’s most original companies, individuals, and iconoclasts over the years.

Adam Grant author photo credit Lange StudioIn this book, you talk quite a bit about examples of notable or successful originals. Who are some of your personal favorite originals and why?

I think the most influential original of our time is J.K. Rowling. One, she’s sold more books than other series in history except maybe the Bible—not bad! Two, there’s evidence that you can predict a country’s innovation rates by looking at whether popular children’s stories 20 to 40 years earlier emphasized original accomplishments. When creativity becomes important in a culture, it tends to weave itself into children’s literature. Some of the major tech pioneers of our time drew their early inspiration from reading Madeleine L’Engle, Tolkien, and Ender’s Game, and I think Harry Potter is this generation’s version of that.

One of the interesting ideas you explore in the book is that first movers don’t necessarily have the best advantage. I’d never heard of Kozmo, an unsuccessful predecessor to Netflix that got millions in funding but failed.

I mentioned Kozmo largely because I was a user of them when I was in college; it was a really big deal. They basically promised one-hour delivery of anything. Like Amazon Prime Now, except they had bike runners, and they didn’t have any kind of reasonable logistics operation; they way overstretched. It was kind of crazy. I remember going to their site and ordering videos, and they showed up… and it didn’t last very long.

There were lots of case studies that didn’t make it into the book. On the myth of the first-mover advantage, Facebook at minimum was third, behind Myspace and Friendster. Google was a different generation of search engines, far behind AltaVista, Yahoo!, and Ask Jeeves—they were operating for years before Google came along. You look at those cases, and you see that it’s easier to improve on somebody else’s idea than to build a whole new market from scratch.

You use not only business examples, but also historical examples in your book (which I found fascinating). I had no idea that the schism in the suffragette movement was so severe, nor how the alliances between the temperance movement and the suffragette movement really helped to drive the right to vote forward, or how Dr. Martin Luther King’s extensive public speaking experience on the subject of civil rights helped to fuel his success as an original (despite his procrastination in terms of waiting to write the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech until 10 PM the night before). What other historical moments would you love to explore further?

That was amazing. You just summarized two chapters in a few sentences. What else would I like to explore further? One thing I’d love to learn more about is Einstein’s early history with music. His mom enrolled him in violin lessons when he was five, and she had this dream that they would do duets together, and he HATED playing the violin. He seemed to dislike anything that had to do with authority. It almost seems like his mom was the first “tiger mom”—you will practice the violin—and he played diligently, but he hated it. He ended up quitting in his teenage years, and on his own discovered Mozart’s sonatas, and fell in love with them. And it was that—not his mother pushing him—that piqued his interest in music, and he said later that his theory of relativity was a musical thought, and he would have never revolutionized physics had it not been for his background in music. It would be fun to learn more about the ways that art can make us better scientists—which are fascinating.

You bring up in your book that three common cultural templates are professional, star, and commitment types of businesses. Why do you feel the commitment template is the most successful, yet also the most potentially difficult to grow and build on?

This is from a study of Silicon Valley founders, and what blueprints they had in mind for their cultures. The commitment culture is basically about saying “Look, we’re not going to hire people on the basis of their skills (professional culture), or their potential (star culture); we’ll focus primarily on their values.” That means putting culture fit first. If you’re a startup, that’s useful in the beginning, because it helps you attract and motivate people who are really willing to go above and beyond. They have a tremendous sense of passion for the mission; they feel a lot of belongingness. Startups that hire on culture fit are less likely to fail and more likely to go public. But after that, they grow at much slower rates.

They tend to end up with a lot of groupthink. When you hire on culture fit, you end up bringing in a lot of people who think the same way that you do. The risk is that you don’t have enough cognitive diversity. You have more trouble changing and adapting to a dynamic world. Of course, that’s not inevitable. If you make diversity of thought one of your core values, and create a safe space for people to voice dissenting opinions, you can avoid that trap.

Procrastination is traditionally a dirty word, but you make some convincing claims as to why it helps fuel the success of originals. Can you share some more thoughts on the subject and why you enjoyed learning about it so much?

I was intrigued to discover so many great originals were procrastinators, from Leonardo da Vinci to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This went very much against my own tendencies, as someone who’s usually a “precrastinator”—I like to do things before their due date and jump into tasks early. I used to take pride in that! But after working on research with a student, Jihae Shin, it became very clear that delaying the start or finish of a task can actually open us up to more original ideas! So I taught myself to procrastinate. It was really fun. I take it back—it was agonizing. The result of it was fun, the process was not.

I loved the story about how the most creative fashion collections came from houses whose directors had the greatest experience abroad. How can members of the WeWork community learn from this example?

It was working abroad, not traveling abroad, that predicted originality. And it was also working in countries very different from your own. So it’s not that helpful if you’re working in New York to go and hang out in New Jersey. You might try to figure out which WeWork locations have norms and customs most different than yours and then start to collaborate with the people in that place, so you can learn from how they think. Even something as simple as exchanging feedback with them can gain access to their ways of working.

As someone who’s had the opportunity to create a lot of work—thousands of interviews, many of which people did not necessarily notice, but some of which they did—I could really relate to your anecdotes describing that quantity is the most predictable path to quality. To generate a handful of masterworks, Mozart composed more than 600 pieces, Beethoven produced 650 works in his lifetime, and Bach over a thousand.

For most people, the problem is not idea generation; it’s idea selection. Lots of people have original ideas, but they don’t know which ones to pursue. We’re surprisingly bad at judging our own ideas, because it’s too easy to fall in love with our own creations. Getting better at idea evaluation is something I’d love to see people do, and one way to do that is through getting feedback from two groups of people. One is fellow creators, because peers are very good judges of original ideas: they have a little bit of distance from your ideas and they are creatively involved, so they see more potential than middle managers do.

The other group is disagreeable people. Most of us, when we have a new idea, we take it to the nicest, friendliest, most agreeable people we know—we expect them to be supportive. And they will cheerlead in that conversation. But because they are also people who want to get along and maintain harmony, they are reluctant to rock the boat. That discourages them from standing up for us. Disagreeable people give us much more useful feedback—they will tear our idea apart to help us. And if we can persuade them, they will be our most vocal advocates, and they will run through walls for us, because that’s how they operate.

Would you consider yourself to be an original?

I don’t think it’s my place to judge. But I can tell you that I’ve become more original over time. I used to conform a lot more than I do now, and I’ve become much more comfortable championing new ideas even when they’re unpopular.

Photo: Sam Ubinas

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Made in Detroit: Why the Motor City is a Great Place for Creators

After filing for bankruptcy in 2013, Detroit famously rolled up its sleeves, and got back to work. This “can do” attitude is what you’ll find behind its booming startup culture and efforts to rebuild one business at a time.

“‘Made in Detroit’ has become a brand in itself,” says Ryan Landau, founder of Detroit startup re:purpose, which matches people with jobs by finding the right culture fit.

“It’s a rare opportunity to be part of the comeback story,” he says. “I think you can see it in the retail, the restaurants, the new businesses, and technology scene that is popping up. In the last five years, each year, the rate of change is exponential.

If you ask Landau, the reason Detroit is so attractive right now is the talent, the resources, and the fact that it’s affordable. Home to one of the country’s most skilled workforces, the 29 colleges and universities graduate more engineers per capita than any city in North America.

wework detroit common area_

“From a talent perspective, there is a real hustle,” says the Merchant’s Row member, who launched the first business out of WeWork’s new space in Detroit. “People are loyal to this city and trying to make things happen, not only for their individual company, but for everyone. We are all a part of a collective effort to rebuild.”’

From a resources perspective, Detroit is still a big city, but compared with San Francisco or New York, people here, especially in technology, have a bigger piece of the pie.

“From a customer standpoint, you’re not getting lost in the buzz of competition,” Landau explains. “Every new business is a win for the city.”

That means entrepreneurs have access to more capital and more customers than in saturated markets. And that has attracted new brands like Warby Parker, Shinola, and Bonobos, all of whom have made big bets on Detroit.

One of the first people to make that bet was Dan Gilbert, chairman and founder of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans, who moved his headquarters and 1,700 employees to downtown Detroit in 2010, in effect jump starting the urban revitalization.

Today, Gilbert’s businesses employ over 17,000 people. That includes Bedrock, which has invested several billion dollars in local real estate, a major driver behind the city’s ability to attract talent.  With new lofts and apartments opening every day, employers are finding the cost of living is much lower than other major U.S. tech hubs.

Historically Detroit’s economy was powered by aviation, defense, and the car industry. The new Detroit continues to build upon its manufacturing roots, while diversifying into a next-generation hub for technology, creators and makers.

Take Shinola, which has helped put Detroit back on the map as a place for high quality, American-made goods with its signature watches, leather products, and bicycles.

“The mission of the brand is to create jobs, and we were 100 percent ready to hire local people and provide that training,” says Bridget Russo, chief marketing officer at Shinola, which opened in 2011 with just a handful of people. “From a people perspective, there is a good vibe here,” says Russo. “They are still open to collaborating and being supportive of new businesses coming in and being helpful.”

That kind of collaboration is also evident in Detroit’s thriving artistic community.

standby detroit mural

“When we opened our gallery over four years ago, we wanted to make an impact beyond these walls, with a public art component,” says Anthony Curis, owner of the Library Street Collective, a contemporary gallery located in the heart of downtown.

Curis, and his wife JJ, have been instrumental in Detroit’s downtown public arts scene, supporting the installation of large and small sculptures, paintings, and large scale murals.

“When we heard there was going to be a new, massive parking garage, we were concerned how it may affect the neighborhood,” says Curis. He came up with a plan which would be a game changer for Detroit.

Curis worked with garage developer, Bedrock, to create large scale murals on every floor of the Z Garage, bringing in 27 artists from Detroit to Kiev. Once that was built, Curis pitched the idea for a pedestrian alleyway called at The BELT, a public space that is home to murals and art by local, national and international artists including Nina Chanel Abney, Shepard Fairey and Cleon Peterson.


Today, the BELT attracts visitors from all over the world and boasts a James Beard nominated restaurant, the Standby, and a seasonal cocktail bar, The Skip.

Russo thinks what’s happening in Detroit resonates with many people because “it’s an emblem of hope that if things can turn around here, they can in place like Baltimore or Pittsburgh.”

On May 25, Detroit will host the Creator Awards, a global initiative by WeWork to “recognize and reward the creators of the world.” Finalists from the Midwest and Canada will compete for $1.5 million in grants. Over the course of the year, WeWork will be giving out more than $20 million at a series of events taking place in cities spanning the globe.

With two WeWork locations, at Merchant’s Row and soon at Campus Martius, Detroit is the second city to host the Creator Awards, after Washington, D.C.

“Simply put: If you want to be part of the rebirth of a great American city, there’s no better place to live, work, and have an impact,” says Landau. “This isn’t just something we believe. It’s something we’re betting on by locating our headquarters here.”

Photos by Sal Rodriguez


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At New WeWork Services Store, One-Stop Shopping for Businesses

Everyone knows WeWork provides workspace for creators of all types, from solo entrepreneurs to teams from global corporations. But Co-Founder Miguel McKelvey says it’s always been more than that.

“When we first started WeWork, we thought about it as a holistic solution,” says McKelvey. “Our goal was to think, ‘What do you need to be successful? What are all the things we could do for you?’”

Unveiled this week, the WeWork Services Store marks the next chapter in the company’s evolution. This integrated hub for business services — similar to an app store — gives members the tools they need to better run their companies. It streamlines the process of finding, managing, and purchasing the various services that a growing company needs.

WeWork Services Store“We are going to make it easier for you to operate,” says McKelvey. “We are going to save you money, packaging services that can all be billed through one invoice.”

WeWork is partnering with more than 100 top providers, including Slack, Amazon Web Services, Office 365, Salesforce, and GoDaddy. Members will have discounted access to these and other services, which they can handpick to meet the needs of their company. The services include tools for everything from hiring and recruiting to accounting and invoices to marketing and website creation. Think of it as one-stop shopping for your business needs.

“What we are saying is, ‘These are software tools that we really believe in, that we feel are the right ones for you,’” says McKelvey. “We are consolidating them all into one place, so with one click you can have all the software you need to run your business.”

Ron Gura, the company’s senior vice president of digital products, says his team did a lot of research so they could “really understand what would be the most meaningful offers” for WeWork’s 100,000 members worldwide. The store launches in the U.S. this week, and will roll out globally in the future.

One of the members that the digital products team reached out to is Teresa Tsou, the president of Pipcorn, a snack company that makes hand-seasoned mini-popcorn.

“One of the things about WeWork that’s great is that they really do understand how businesses and entrepreneurs work,” says the WeWork Dumbo Heights member. “And so with the WeWork Services Store, to be able to find recommendations on applications that make sense for businesses our size is invaluable. It allows us to really focus on what we love — which is popping popcorn.”

The store includes recommendations from fellow members about what products they use, helping streamline what can often be a confusing and time consuming process.

“Bringing a curated selection of things that are relevant to you, and are trusted by people like you, is exactly what you want when you are trying to build something,” says Clark Valberg, founder and CEO of InVision, a platform for planning, designing, and building apps.

Valberg says the last thing entrepreneurs and creators want to think about, and spend time on,  is what marketing email or accounting software to use; “So getting clarity on that decision super fast, and knowing the people around you feel the same way, and actually love the product, is incredibly liberating for people starting a business.”

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Hip Haberdasher Donovan England’s Style Suits Everyone

Donovan England is in a hurry. He’s wrapping up a phone interview with a reporter while he and his friends speed to the airport to board a private plane. His destination for the weekend? A bachelor’s party in New Orleans.

“Things are going pretty fast,” England admits.

The 34-year-old entrepreneur’s business—an eponymous line of bespoke suits—is also going places. Just take a look at his Instagram account, where nearly 90,000 followers look forward to his next post—usually shots of him wearing one of his own smartly tailored looks.

Donovan England 2There’s nothing off-the-rack about what Donovan England offers clients. Every suit is custom made to reflect each client’s personal taste. And the fit is impeccable, with England himself taking 23 different measurements to ensure that cuffs and lapels look perfect.

And can we talk about the fabrics? There’s a wide range of colors that go far beyond the usual black and navy blue.

“The fabrics are from England and Italy,” says England. “We looked at 100 different manufacturers before we found the right ones.”

England started out in institutional banking, but he realized that he wanted to work for himself.

“I’ve always been an entrepreneur,” he says. “I’ve started a lot of different companies. Some make money, some lose money.”

It was a couple of poorly fitting suits that convinced him to start his own custom clothing line with an initial investment of just $550.

“I figure that when you have a lot of money, you’re going to spend a lot of money,” England says. “We were able to do it with a lot of trial, and a lot of error. But it was all worth it.”

For six years England worked from home, but now he’s based at WeWork Uptown in Dallas. At his office, look for leather furnishings and a gleaming bar cart with top-shelf spirits.

“Our space that reflects what we’re doing with the brand,” says England. “We’re going for that haberdashery feel.”

Photos by Megan Weaver

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5 Tips for Creating a Newsletter People Actually Read

If you think email newsletters aren’t important for your business, think again. In fact, niche-driven, carefully-crafted newsletters engage audiences and create a customer base that grows by itself. Take the New York Times, who for years had newsletters that were essentially an extension of their newspaper. In an effort to increase traffic, they shifted from newsletters driven by automatic feeds, to ones heavily curated by journalists, expanding to over 30 newsletters, which span a diverse set of topics including cooking, politics and parenting. The new strategy created a noticeable jump in open rates and subscribers. Their current email open rate is now 50 percent, double the industry average. Are you hoping to do the same? Here are five tips for creating a newsletter people will actually click and read.

Offer original, useful information

This may seem obvious, but your content is the most important part of your newsletter. It needs to be creative, thought-provoking and original. Many sites miss the mark by creating newsletters that simply rehash old material they could find on their website. You will add value by creating content that requires research, or is based on information that is hard to find.

Your newsletter should remain consistent in order to draw in readers who care about the topic for months, rather than days. This will help you build readership.

Make sure it looks good

Again, this might be obvious, but your newsletter’s design is an important part of ensuring readers click on, read, and come back to your newsletter.

This also holds true for written content, which should follow a consistent style. Make sure your newsletter’s layout is visually engaging and highlights your creativity by using high-resolution photos, illustrations, an appealing color scheme.

And don’t forget to build your newsletter with mobile capability in mind. Over 53 percent of all emails are read on mobile devices. If your newsletter doesn’t format properly on a phone, chances are it might not get read at all.

Treat it as a stand-alone product

Quality writing attracts and retains readers, plus it creates a word-of-mouth marketing campaign that can expand your readership. A great example of this is Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter, a newsletter that has half a million readers and a 70 percent open rate.

Newsletters like Lenny Letter and those from The New York target specific kinds of readers. For example, Dunham, a Millennial feminist, has a largely, young female audience. By doing this, they establish real value in their writing that is difficult to replicate in marketing.

Market your newsletter

A newsletter can’t have impact until people sign-up for it. To get your hard work in other people’s hands, you must market the existence of your newsletter. Even though you’re probably creating a newsletter for the sake of marketing, you still need to get the word out.

Tell the world about your newsletter by creating simple banner ads online or marketing it through your existing social media channels. The New York Times did this when they started to diversify their newsletters and it was very successful.

Be consistent

If you’re interested in creating a consistent base of readers, keep them satisfied with scheduled content. Stick to a publishing schedule and build a pool of creative content you can pull from, if need be, repeatedly. Set a schedule that works for you. Whether that’s weekly or monthly, what’s most important is that your build trust with your readers with a regular, high quality product.

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