The Anatomy of a TED Talk: Adam Grant’s “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”

The Anatomy of a TED Talk: Adam Grant’s “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”

The Anatomy of a TED Talk - Adam Grants

Do you consider yourself an Original Thinker?  Are you a procrastinator or a precrastinator (apparently, YES, that IS a thing!).   We are resurrecting our ANATOMY OF A GREAT TED TALK series and to start the New Year off right, we are going to find out what we can do to encourage our inner Original Thinker!  

Here’s Adam Grant’s: “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers”.  

You may recall in a previous blog (link:, I introduced the FRAMEWORK I’ve created, which my clients use to create their TED Talks. It breaks down the presentation into different key elements that contribute to an overall great talk. This is NOT A FORMULA – nor a cookie cutter, step-by-step process. It’s a simple framework– the box which holds the sand– so you can create your unique, authentic talk!




Adam starts with a story of a missed opportunity.  This is a genius opener, as the audience immediately is invested in this story and are curious to hear how it resolved.   He finds himself approached with an investment opportunity. The idea sounds fine enough, but Adam is put off by the approach of the business leaders.  Guess what? He missed out on a HUGE money making opportunity (I won’t spoil it by telling you the name of the business, you’ll have to find out for yourself!).  He uses this story as his inspiration to go on a quest to discover what makes these original thinkers so successful:

MINUTE 01:13-   …I’ve been studying people that I come to call “originals.” Originals are nonconformists,people who not only have new ideas but take action to champion them. They are people who stand out and speak up. Originals drive creativity and change in the world. They’re the people you want to bet on. And they look nothing like I expected. I want to show you today three things I’ve learned about recognizing originals and becoming a little bit more like them.


Adam takes a slower building approach when it comes to introducing himself. He begins with his story about not being able to suss out a prime investment and gives us insight into his childhood with a funny story about a Nintendo obsession. Finally, even though he’s used the word “student” several times, he finally lets us in on the fact that he specializes in Organization Psychology, implying he is a professor who teaches it as well.

MINUTE 3:13 “…as an organizational psychologist, this is the kind of idea that I test. So I challenged her to get some data. She goes into a bunch of companies. She has people fill out surveys about how often they procrastinate. Then she gets their bosses to rate how creative and innovative they are. And sure enough, the precrastinators like me, who rush in and do everything early are rated as less creative than people who procrastinate moderately. So I want to know what happens to the chronic procrastinators. She was like, “I don’t know. They didn’t fill out my survey.”


Adam and his student then embark on the daunting task of data collection and interpretation, with some fun and surprising results!

MINUTE 3:49- No, here are our results. You actually do see that the people who wait until the last minute are so busy goofing off that they don’t have any new ideas. And on the flip side, the people who race in are in such a frenzy of anxiety that they don’t have original thoughts either. There’s a sweet spot where originals seem to live. Why is this? Maybe original people just have bad work habits.Maybe procrastinating does not cause creativity.”

MINUTE 4:22 – “To find out, we designed some experiments. We asked people to generate new business ideas, and then we get independent readers to evaluate how creative and useful they are. And some of them are asked to do the task right away. Others we randomly assign to procrastinate by dangling Minesweeper in front of them for either five or 10 minutes. And sure enough, the moderate procrastinators are 16 percent more creative than the other two groups. Now, Minesweeper is awesome, but it’s not the driver of the effect, because if you play the game first before you learn about the task, there’s no creativity boost. It’s only when you’re told that you’re going to be working on this problem, and then you start procrastinating, but the task is still active in the back of your mind, that you start to incubate. Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.”

MINUTE 7:20 – “Look at a classic study of over 50 product categories, comparing the first movers who created the market with the improvers who introduced something different and better. What you see is that the first movers had a failure rate of 47 percent, compared with only 8 percent for the improvers.”


MINUTE 14:16 – “So if you put all this together, what you see is that originals are not that different from the rest of us. They feel fear and doubt. They procrastinate. They have bad ideas. And sometimes, it’s not in spite of those qualities but because of them that they succeed.”


MINUTE 19:35-  “The last thing I’m going to leave you with is this. Tiny tweaks can lead to big changes. So, this is two minutes. Two minutes, two minutes, two minutes. Before you go into the next stressful evaluative situation, for two minutes, try doing this, in the elevator, in a bathroom stall, at your desk behind closed doors. That’s what you want to do. Configure your brain to cope the best in that situation. Get your testosterone up. Get your cortisol down. Don’t leave that situation feeling like, oh, I didn’t show them who I am. Leave that situation feeling like, I really feel like I got to say who I am and show who I am.”


MINUTE 14:48-  So when you see those things, don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t write them off. And when that’s you, don’t count yourself out either. Know that being quick to start but slow to finish can boost your creativity, that you can motivate yourself by doubting your ideas and embracing the fear of failing to try, and that you need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones.

There are lots of ways to give an effective talk, we hope this series helps you to explore what will work best for YOUR talk!

We’d love to invite you to attend our Live Clarity Event!

FEBRUARY 27th, 28th 2019


Click HERE for more info and to reserve your spot!  (link:


In Clarity,







 Dolores Hirschmann is an internationally recognized strategist, Clarity coach, TEDxOrganizer, Speaker & Author. She has over 20 years experience helping entrepreneurs, companies & organizations realize their potential—by guiding them to CLARITY—to define their CORE IDEA, message and market strategy needed to reach their next level of growth. As a Speaker Coach Dolores guides speakers to go from successful professionals to thought leaders in their field. If you would like to learn more visit: or download her free resource “STAND OUT THE TED WAY”

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