Whether you’re venturing into the world of technology, science, the arts or business, if you’re introducing something new and progressive, be prepared for rejection and ridicule. And not necessarily because your idea doesn’t pass muster. In fact, it may be just the opposite.
We’ve all heard about countless greats who jumped through these same hoops of rejection on their path to success. Some of the stories have reached legendary status. But, here’s something you may not know: One published study actually identified a scientific reason to explain this initial wall of resistance, examining why many people put up an initial fight against anything new or disruptive to the status quo.
In a 99u.com article titled, “Why Great Ideas Get Rejected,” author David Burkus wrote that “Mounting evidence shows that we all possess an inherent bias against creativity.” He continued: “Recent research in human psychology is finally shedding some light on how our brains accept (or reject) new ideas.”
In fact, the emotions evoked in us when we confront ideas that challenge the status quo are actually similar to the ones changes in our lives create: The word “anxiety” comes to mind.
This anxiety and fear compels us to reject new creative ideas and concepts that would change our own long-held, structured routines. A 2010 study titled “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas,” by researchers at The Wharton School of Business, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Cornell summed up the problem nicely.
According to the study, the problem is uncertainty. “In two studies,” the report abstract stated, “we measure and manipulate uncertainty using different methods including: discrete uncertainty feelings, and an uncertainty reduction prime. The results of both studies demonstrated a negative bias toward creativity (relative to practicality) when participants experienced uncertainty. Furthermore, the bias against creativity interfered with participants’ ability to recognize a creative idea.
“These results reveal a concealed barrier that creative actors [creators] may face as they attempt to gain acceptance for their novel ideas.”
Hear any bells going off? I know I do.
From live-demo presentations and meetings, to phone calls and emails, when you present something new to people who have always done things a certain way, chances are you’ll hear your fair share of sarcastic quips, condescending remarks, bullying or just out-and-out rejection. And you’re not alone.
Actually, you’re in good company.
To illustrate, consider these five war stories.
Do you enjoy a nice hot cup of Starbucks coffee in the morning? Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz was originally turned down by upwards of 217 investors when he first pitched his concept of bringing charming Italian-style coffee houses to the United States in large numbers. Bet those investors are a little less caffeinated now.
Can’t live without your Apple computer or iPhone? As the story goes, Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak offered his then-employer Hewlett Packard the Apple I PC computer five different times, begging H-P to manufacture it. Five different times H-P rejected it, outright. Wozniak was mocked by his former employer, and eventually struck out on his own. Today, Wozniak is likely counting up the wealth he has in Apple stock.
Ever picked up a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul? Creator Jack Canfield was rejected by 140 publishers in his first attempts to get the now-iconic book series on shelves and into readers’ hands. He was told that anthology books just “don’t sell.” The company’s list of 250 books says that that statement was way wrong.
Enjoy the convenience of airplanes to get where you need to go? The Wright brothers’ first attempt at showcasing their invention of flight to a group of gathered reporters flopped when the plane failed to take off properly. After this first demo gone awry, a year went by before the famous brothers could get any journalists to take them seriously and view another demonstration of their invention. That one worked.
Premium cable anyone? Think HBO was an overnight success? It wasn’t. Originally launched in 1965 as “The Green Channel” and then as “Home Box Office,” HBO didn’t gain its footing (technologically, financially or creatively) with the American television viewing public until around 1975. HBO continued to re-work its format throughout the early 1980s.
To quote a LifeHack.com article titled, “6 World-Changing Ideas That Were Originally Rejected: A person with a new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds.”
So, yes, all of these stories are great, but how do you ride out the rough patches, you ask?
Celebrate small victories along the way. This means celebrate every compliment, every new consumer/supporter, every piece of press or social media mention. Don’t forget to acknowledge the praise you receive and celebrate those moments.
Pat yourself on the back for having the vision and courage to be a creator. You’re a rare breed. You’ve taken the road less traveled. You have dared to innovate. Congratulate yourself for having courage and vision.
Surround yourself with supportive and like-minded people who support your vision. Negative Nancys and Debbie Downers abound, but you don’t have to welcome them into, or keep them in, your inner circle. Surround yourself with friends, family and colleagues who will add fuel to your emotional and intellectual tank on a regular basis.
Don’t shy away from constructive criticism. Don’t shatter like glass if someone attempts to play devil’s advocate and suggests that perhaps you have overlooked something in your business model. Put ego aside and digest others’ (positive) input. It could spark a fresh idea or a new angle on how to approach things.
Double-down on that independent spirit of yours. Think outside the box when you pursue opportunities to gain publicity and customers. You’ve already earned your renegade badge of honor, so why stop now? It’s that inner voice and those beautiful hunches of yours that have taken you this far. Trust your instincts.