Reading Originals by Adam Grant is one of those transformative experiences you hope for every time you open a new book. Adam has me thinking about many important issues, but this one has stuck with me: is the theory we’ve been feeding ourselves about working smart rather than working hard actually total rubbish?
Everyone I know struggles with work/life balance, especially women who are career focused. Some years ago I finally gave up on the concept altogether and accepted the idea that for me, some days I’d be a great mom and a sucky business owner; other days it would be the reverse. I’m at peace with that fluctuating state now, but it took a while.
Many of those struggling with that same issue have embraced the idea that they can have it all if only they learn how to work less, but work smart. That is an easy idea to embrace – if I’m only better at what I do and better at managing my time, I can be an incredible success with lots of free time.
But Adam Grant has a very different idea:
It’s widely assumed that there’s a tradeoff between quantity and quality – if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it – but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality. “Original thinkers,” Stanford professor Robert Sutton notes, “will come up with many ideas that are strange mutations, dead ends, and utter failures. The cost is worthwhile because they also generate a larger pool of ideas – especially novels.”
There was a time when I just didn’t want to believe this. As a lifelong workaholic, I’d finally reached a point where I was letting myself work less. But I know Adam Grant is right. Over the course of my career, I have spoken to thousands and thousands of business owners and entrepreneurs about how they run their business. It is undeniable that the ones who work the hardest are generally the most successful.
A precise example is my friend and client Anthony Iannarino. Before I worked for him as an editor, I regularly badgered him about being more strategic, using an editor, implementing an SEO strategy etc. Yet he persisted with his focused strategy of writing, and writing. Last week he published his 2500th blog post. For most of that time, it was just Anthony, on his own, writing. No editor. No SEO strategist – just a man churning out lots and lots of great content.
Where did it get him? He has 58,000 email subscribers, a massive social media following, and a lead generation machine others would kill for, and it’s built on all of his thought leadership published in the form of blog posts. Of course, he’s been out there consulting, speaking, and active on social media, but the foundation of his lead generation is that blog.
Does this mean that in order to succeed you should give up any chance of a personal life and work 80 hours per week? No, certainly not, but what my experience and Adam Grant’s book have made clear to me is that great work and great ideas do not usually come in the form of genius that strikes special people with a Eureka moment. Genius comes from trying, and trying, and trying again… with many dead ends and bad ideas as part of the process of doing great work. It also means that you will do mediocre work often, but that’s ok, because mediocre work is part and parcel of the pathway to genius work.