Tuesday, August 30, 2016

In Defense of Procrastination

I have a confession to make:  I can be a terrible procrastinator.

I don’t procrastinate with some things, like client projects, but I put many things in my life off until the last possible minute (or begin them, put them on hold, restart, etc.) – things such as starting landscaping projects, cleaning my office, doing my taxes, even writing this blog post.

I had a note on my calendar over a week ago that I was supposed to be drafting this blog post. As usual though, I kept finding convenient excuses to do something other than this blog post – I took the kids to the pool, exercised, cleaned the kitchen, folded the laundry, got caught up on some long overdue weeding . . .

While putting off this post, I actually spent some time thinking about what I was going to write, and had a few good ideas: 

  • I attended the Forward Festival (a week long technology and entrepreneurship festival) in Madison last week.  I especially enjoyed the Pressure Chamber event, in which five companies made presentations to a group of judges and a large audience, and the winner (Polco) was given an all-expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley to meet with prospective investors.
  • I contemplated a blog post about Twin Cities Startup Week, which is a similar festival celebrating entrepreneurship in the Twin Cities during the week of September 19th. 
  • I had the good fortune of supporting a client’s charity by playing golf at Hazeltine National, which is hosting the Ryder Cup at the beginning of October.  There is something about the history of the event, and the English businessman for which it is named, that might have made for an interesting post.

Not feeling particularly inspired though, I procrastinated a little more and went on a run Saturday morning.  As I typically do when running, I listened to a podcast (this time, the Ted Radio Hour).  This week’s podcast was about, of all things, procrastination, and more particularly, the benefits of procrastination.  There are benefits to procrastination?  Who knew?  I was intrigued.

One of the speakers on the podcast, Adam Grant, is a professor at Wharton, a best-selling author, and self-proclaimed “precrastinator” – that is, the opposite of a procrastinator.  He begins all projects as soon as he possibly can and diligently works on them until completion.

In his TED talk, Grant told the story of a few of his former students who approached him and asked if he wanted to invest in their new online business.  Several months after they initially approached him, and just before they were scheduled to launch, the website for their online business wasn’t yet ready and they hadn’t even come up with a name. Sensing that his former students weren’t exactly committed to their new business, Adam Grant declined to invest.  That turned out to be a mistake.  His students’ business, Warby Parker, became a very trendy and successful retailer of eye glasses, both online and now with physical locations, currently valued at over $1 billion.

What Grant believed to be lack of commitment and procrastination by his former students was actually their process of thinking through key details of their business plan and developing a name that would be important for their brand.  Apparently, there is something about the process of beginning a project, putting it on hold, and then restarting it, which allows ideas to marinate and alternatives to become apparent, ultimately benefitting the finished product.

Intrigued (and probably distraught) by how he could underestimate his former students, Grant encouraged another of his former students to do some research on procrastination. She conducted a study that showed that people who procrastinate tend to be more creative than those who do not procrastinate.  People who don’t procrastinate tend to be more conventional in their thinking, as they act on the first thing that comes into their mind.  Procrastinators, on the other hand, tend to think about things while they are delaying beginning work, which allows them to address matters in a less conventional way.  Aaron Sorkin, the famous screen writer for The West Wing and Steve Jobs, famously said about procrastination: “You call it procrastination, I call it thinking.”

Maybe.  I’ll think about that later. 

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