The Thistle - An E-Newsletter of Scotch College, Perth, Western Australia

From the Head of Senior School

Organisational Psychologist Adam Grant in his 2016 Ted Talk states that "Procrastination can be a vice for productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity". At first glance, this statement seems at odds with our thinking. As teachers, we encourage boys to start their work early, to map out a plan to tackle the task ahead and then work towards mini goals which, depending on the type of task, may include research, formulating an argument or opinion, and then to produce a draft and a final piece of work. 

So, what is the basis of Grant's statement on procrastination?  A number of  years ago he was offered an investment opportunity in a company being set up by some students, however, after completing his due diligence he decided that, despite their pioneering idea, they were not well enough organised to make it work. Grant was wrong and that company, Warby Parker, is now recognised as one of the most innovative in the world. 

Grant coined the term "Originals" to describe people who he identified as non-conformists, those with new ideas who are prepared to champion them, people who "drive creativity and change", the very type of people he chose not to back in Warby Parker. He wanted to better understand them; how they approach challenges, how they think and what drives them. Grant labelled himself as a " precrastinator ", someone who starts a task immediately and completes it well before it is due so, with the help of a student, he studied the habits and creative output of people like himself, as well as both moderate and chronic procrastinators. 

What they discovered was that the ' precrastinators ' completed the tasks on time but in a rush and, in that "frenzy", did not present original thoughts while the chronic procrastinators, those who left things to the last minute, were too busy with distractions to have any new ideas. The 'Originals', however, who Grant says have moderate procrastination tendencies, found the "sweet spot" in terms of creativity and operated in the zone between the ' precrastinators ' and the chronic procrastinators. 

So why is this? The 'Originals', Grant argued, start straight away, look at the problem or the task and then put it to the back of their mind. In doing so, they allow themselves the opportunity to incubate their ideas, nurture different concepts, consider alternatives and "make unexpected leaps" that they would not have been able to achieve if the task had been completed immediately or been left to the last minute and become all consuming. 

Grant argues that being quick to start, but not as quick to finish, can boost creativity. People can motivate themselves by doubting their ideas. They have time to energise, to experiment and refine those "bad" ideas in order to develop good ideas. Like everyone, 'Originals'   have fears and doubt and sometimes it is not  in spite of  these qualities but because of them that they succeed. The important aspect is to start quickly, plant the seed and then let the ideas grow and be tested. 

So, what does this mean for our students? Obviously if it is about their study habits, the earlier and more often the work is reviewed the better. If it is a new task, it is important to address it straight away, gather some thoughts and formulate some ideas and, then, let those ideas percolate over a short period of time. Challenge those ideas, doubt them, grow them, allow creativity to go to work and then refocus on the task and finish it.