5 Rare Habits Of People Who Are True Originals

What makes someone an original?

girl in purple neon lights Ilya Morozov / Shutterstock

Originals are people who are non-conformists. They’re the ones that change this world with their new and innovative ideas. But what makes someone an original?

To understand this, Adam Grant — an author, behavioral psychologist, and a professor at the Wharton University of Pennsylvania — has been studying originals.

And through his research, he’s found many similar traits that such people share. In this article, I want to share five of those traits that Adam shares in various interviews, his TED talk and his book Originals


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Here are the 5 rare habits of people who are true originals:

1. They make use of the Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik effect occurs when an activity that has been interrupted may be more readily recalled. It postulates that people remember unfinished or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. What does that mean?


Let’s take an example. Say that you are working on a project and you leave it half-finished. This task gets labeled as 'incomplete' in your head, and hence it stays there. This enables a part of your mind to keep working on it, even when you’re doing chores. This is why you keep getting ideas on how to improve your unfinished projects while doing other chores.

But let’s say you power through and finish the project right away instead of putting it off. The project will now get labeled as 'completed' in your head, and hence you probably won’t get any new ideas on improving it. This explains how we simply have a better working memory for unfinished tasks than finished tasks.

But how do you make use of the Zeigarnik effect?

Simple. Procrastinate, but strategically. Adam Grant says, "Originals are quick to start but slow to finish." This procrastination helps them incubate ideas that then hatch into increased creativity.


A lot of great people in history were procrastinators. Leonardo da Vinci began painting the Mona Lisa in 1503, then abandoned the project and returned to and finished it in 1519, 16 years later! In these 16 years, Da Vinci experimented with several new painting techniques, which eventually turned the Mona Lisa into a masterpiece.

Whatever your creative projects are, be eager to start them, but not so quick to finish them. Let the project incubate in your head. Because in that gap, lies the treasure of an original. Of course, you don’t have to procrastinate for 16 years. I mean, you could. But it’s always a tradeoff, and you’ve to find the balance between lost time and your project's quality.

"You call it procrastinating? I call it thinking." — Aaron Sorkin

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2. They’re not eager to be the first movers

In the movie, The Social Network, The Winklevosses and Divya Narendra have a conversation after Mark Zuckerburg stole the idea of Facebook from them.

Divya Narendra: …he gave himself a 42-day head start because he knows, what apparently you don’t, that getting there first is everything.

Cameron Winklevoss: I’m a competitive racer, Div. I don’t think you need to school me on the importance of getting there first. Thanks.

And it makes logical sense — that getting there first and being a first-mover means you win. However, research disagrees. The first-mover advantage is mostly a myth.

As Adam Grant presents, "In a study of more than 50 product categories comparing the first movers who created the market with 'the improvers' who introduced something different and better. The first movers had a failure rate of 47% compared with only 8% for the improvers."


Adam then gives a few examples of his claim:

  • Facebook was built years after Myspace and Friendster
  • Google was made years after Altavista and Yahoo

To put it simply, to be an original, you don’t have to be the first mover. You can still be an original by being an improver.

In fact, as Adam claims, "It is much easier to improve on someone else’s idea than it is to start from scratch." And god knows we need ways to make the creative process easier anyway.

3. They know how to choose their collaborators

Validation is a basic human trait that leads to several problems, including diminished creativity. What do I mean? I mean that if we only listen to people who think like us; people who praise us, we might never get further than we are.


This is why in his book Originals, Adam says that the best collaborators are people who love to prove you wrong. It might be unpleasant, yet we need this criticism to visualize other perspectives and grow.

This is also the essence of the Dialectic method. The Dialectic method is a type of discourse where different people with different points of view try to arrive at a common truth through dialogue and reasoned argumentation. The Dialectic method has three elements —

  • Thesis: One point of view
  • Anti-thesis: The opposite point of view
  • Synthesis: Unlike normal arguments where one with ‘thesis’ tries to defeat the other with ‘anti-thesis’, the dialectic method aims at the embracement of thesis and antithesis resulting in the birth of a beautiful synthesis

Simply put, don’t seek validation. Seek collaborators who challenge your ideas and make you uncomfortable. That’s how you’ll grow.

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4. They manage their doubts and fears differently

Many of us may believe that to be an original; you have to be fearless. But that’s not true. Originals may look confident on the surface, but they have the same doubts and fears as others on the inside. The difference lies in how originals deal with their doubts and fears.

According to Adam, the creative process looks something like this.

  1. This is awesome
  2. This is tricky
  3. This is crap
  4. I am crap
  5. This might be okay
  6. This is awesome

Adam has discovered that there are two kinds of doubts — self-doubt and idea doubt. Understandably, self-doubt is paralyzing. It can cause you to succumb to inaction and also mess with your mental well-being. Idea doubt, on the other hand, can be energizing. It can motivate you to test, tweak, and build on your ideas when you’re not confident about them.

By moving from self-doubt to idea-doubt, you can make the creative process easier, while also being more original. As Adam says, doing this is as simple as striking off step 4 of the creative process.


When your ideas don’t seem competent, don’t doubt yourself. Instead, focus on how you can make those ideas better.

5. They reach quality through quantity

The quality-quantity debate is as old as we can think back to. And while people believe they have to choose either one of them, research now suggests that you cannot have one without the other.

A study by Aaron Kozbelt compared the relationship between the number of compositions musicians have created and their perceived greatness. This was the result:


Most evidently, the relationship between greatness and the number of compositions followed a linear curve. Even legends like Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach had to produce hundreds of compositions to have a few exceptional ones that eventually made them great.

By this, we can understand that quantity is not the opposite of quality, but the precursor. A lot of quantity ultimately leads to quality. Hence, while we may think that originals have a few excellent ideas, the exact opposite is true. Originals have a lot of bad ideas, spaced by a few good ideas here and there.

Being an original may not be as elusive as one would think. Here are 5 rare habits of people who are true originals:

  • They make use of the Zeigarnik effect by procrastinating strategically. They are quick to start but slow to finish.
  • They don’t worry about being the first movers. Instead, they believe in being improvers.
  • They choose collaborators who challenge their ideas instead of seeking validation.
  • They replace self-doubt with idea doubt because idea doubt can be energizing.
  • They understand that quantity is not the opposite of quality, but its precursor.

Try following these habits for yourself and who knows; you might end up changing the world someday.

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more.