The Originals: Why It Is Not yet Too Late to Start a Business

The Originals: Why It Is Not Yet Too Late to Start a Business

Are you taking your time to churn out a brilliant business idea? Do you feel like you are past the ideal age to found a startup? The pressure is on for people to produce the next big thing, but should you jump right in without a plan?

Interest in entrepreneurship is ever growing. Along with this comes the assumption that nonconformist innovators are all bold, young risk-takers. Organizational psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant found something else. In trying to understand what he calls Originals, a pursuit that ended up in book form, he discovered that they are often ‘cautious late adopters.’

Perhaps you fall into this category. Or you can turn yourself into an original thinker, going down a path less traveled as you prepare for the opportunity to start your own business. Here are some qualities that will help you identify whether or not you are a nonconformist.

They Are Slow to Grow

A lot of Originals are quick to start, but slow to finish. While others see it as procrastination, these people see it differently. Delaying tasks is part of their creative process. While that sounds counterintuitive by how productivity hacks go, it points out that something is going on behind the scenes.

Here are three examples, based on Grant’s talk at TED, to illustrate:

  • It took the founders of Warby Parker six months after graduation to figure out how to make people comfortable buying glasses online. Grant, whom they approached about the business during their last term, refused to invest in them because he thought they were slow to get things off the ground. They had also taken internships and lined up full-time jobs in case their business idea failed. Fast forward to 2015, Warby Parker was named Fast Company’s most innovative company, beating giants like Apple, Google, and Samsung.
  • While waiting for his turn to speak onstage at the March on Washington, Martin Luther King was still revising his speech. When he stood up, he uttered four words that changed the course of history: “I have a dream.” Those were not part of the original script.
  • It took Leonardo da Vinci 16 years to complete the Mona Lisa. During those years, he diverted his attention to other things. One of those was optics, his knowledge of which transformed the way he modeled light and in turn made him a much better painter.

They Miss the First-Mover Advantage

Because they were dragging their heels for six months, the founders of Warby Parker missed the first-mover advantage. Others had started selling eyeglasses online. But as mentioned earlier, they took their time to understand how to bring forth a made-on-the-Internet brand to the market.

Originals do not have to be the first to claim an idea. They just have to be different and better, according to Grant. Apple and Google are good examples. Steve Jobs was not the first to create smartphones and music players. Sergey Brin and Larry Page were not the first to build a search engine. Their ideas and products took off because they were better versions of existing ideas and products.

They were not first movers. They were improvers. Based on Grant’s research, second or third movers enjoy more success, with a 8 % failure rate compared to the movers’ 47%. First movers have to fight an uphill battle, but settlers just need to make the product better.

They Doubt the Default

There was a study that could predict how people would perform in their jobs based on their browser of choice. According to the results, those who use Chrome and Firefox outperform those who use Safari and Internet Explorer. The first group also stays at their job 15% longer.

The point is not that Safari and Internet Explorer are crappy. It is that since Chrome and Firefox are not default browsers, one has to have a bit of resourcefulness to look for and download them onto their computers. “It’s about being the kind of person who takes the initiative to doubt the default and look for a better option,” Grant said.

Closer to home, personality is an example of a default that you need to overcome. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Grant talked about diverting from one’s authentic self when the situation calls for it. For instance, introvert speakers and entrepreneurs can look the part while talking in public.

Sam Ovens, a 27-year-old entrepreneur who is included in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia 2017, echoes the idea that being oneself can sometimes do more harm than good. In an interview, Ovens admitted that he is, by instinct, an introvert. He had to work hard for a long time to break through the pain of talking to people. He used the pain of failure as his motivation. Had he not doubted the default—his introverted personality, he could have missed his chance to pitch his business and become a consultant to other consultants.

Grant himself is an introvert—and so are Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg, according to reports. But had these individuals relied on their default operating system, we would know a very different world without them leading successful industrial, technological, and digital revolutions.


By looking at these qualities, you may find clues as to whether there is an Original lurking within you. Further, while millions and millions of Americans are starting or running new businesses, you may feel like you’ve been left behind. But do not give up on your dream. The big idea may be hard to come by, but you can always use the time to figure out something better.

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