Why Playing It a Little Safe Is Actually, a Whole Lot Smarter

Adam Grant is a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Originals. Michael Kamber/Adam Grant

Adam Grant is a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the author of Originals. Michael Kamber/Adam Grant

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area you can't go 5 minutes without hearing about some new tech startup "disrupting" the marketplace with one more life changing app, product or service. Yep, I'll admit it, I'm pretty jaded.  

But the reality is that a lot of those disruptions are actually pretty life changing.

Take Warby-Parker. As a person who has worn glasses since age 8, I am well acquainted with the eyeglasses market. As a young teenager, with a prescription requiring super thick lenses, my options for frames were few.  I remember one time there was literally only one pair available to me, and they were - let's be very clear - not cute.

As an adult, the options opened up. I could choose from most any of the frames in the optometrists' waiting room. You see, now they can make that super thick lens, super thin, for an extra $200(!) bucks. Meaning a pair of pretty cute pair of glasses could easily cost $500 or more. Not exactly affordable.

Enter, Warby-Parker. Modern, stylish glasses for about $100 bucks. And you can try them on at home before you pull out the credit card.  I could go on and on about how much I love Warby-Parker, but I'll spare you.  So yes, life-changing disruption in a very good way. 

As a fan of the brand, I've seen many articles on them over the years. Four guys in a cool loft in Brooklyn doing something totally unexpected that people loved. They were making a fortune pretty much immediately.

As we do, I'd made some early mental assumptions about those four guys in the cool Brooklyn loft. I had pegged them as "typical" risk-taking entrepreneurial types. B-School guys who had sold their idea to big time venture capitalists and were in turn making it big.

So when I read Adam Grant's book Originals a few months ago, and then caught his Ted Talk on the same topic, I was totally floored by his description of the reality of those Warby-Parker guys.

Turns out they were more risk-averse than risk-takers. They didn't drop out of Wharton early to build Warby-Parker in that cool loft. They didn't even start it right out of B-School, they took back-up jobs while they crafted and honed their idea.

 
Originals drive creativity and change in the world. They’re the people you want to bet on. And they look nothing like I expected.
— Adam Grant
 

As it turns out, the people who generate the biggest, most creative ideas, are NOT the ones who drop EVERYTHING to pursue them single-mindedly. They are in fact the ones who operate in a more balanced way... and I absolutely love this.

Doing that thing you love to do, pursuing that creative idea you just feel drawn to, building that tiny business on the weekends because it fuels your heart more than your checking account - that is not playing it safe, that is playing it smart.

Hear stories of the next Warby-Parker guys and more on Doing It On the Side, the podcast that shines a spotlight on everyday people who are pursuing their passions on top of full-time jobs, families and life in general.