A Blog by Jonathan Low


Mar 12, 2014

It's Not an Innovative Idea Until It Gets Rejected

Popular mythology leads us to believe that all the truly great ideas arrived fully hatched. That every successful entrepreneur hit The Big Idea on her first try. That innovation is an epiphany rather than a struggle.

But the reality is far different. As the following article explains, rejection is the necessary precursor to acceptance.

Innovation is hard because despite exhortations to the contrary, people and institutions fear change. They have no frame of reference within which to judge whether something will actually work or not. They are afraid of being wrong - and of the consequences when whatever they championed fails.

It may well be, however, that the pain and fear generated by rejection and failure stimulate the creative processes and, because of the perceptions of necessity that they generate, cause the truly great idea to emerge from the ashes of its predecessor.

Innovation, especially in technology, is iterative. There are lots options, many of which have to be rejected before the right combination of attributes is discovered. The process is messy and time consuming and anxious. And we are better for it as a result. JL

Jane Porter reports in Fast Company:

New innovations are often rejected simply because people don't have a point of reference for them. We resist what we don't know.
Work in a creative field and you'll be constantly reminded that rejection is part of the job. But what you won't often hear through your day-to-day slog is that rejection can be a sign you're doing groundbreaking work.
Some of the greatest artists and inventors of all time had their ideas initially rejected--Pythagoras, George Orwell, Igor Stravinsky, Vincent van Gogh--the list goes on. Philosopher and economist John Stewart Mill made the claim in the 1800s that every great movement or idea must go through three stages: ridicule, discussion, and adoption. This still holds true today.

Why must great ideas face rejection?

The explanation is simple enough: uncertainty makes people squeamish, and creativity and uncertainty go hand-in-hand.
"Creativity involves uncertainty because it is difficult to know the consequences of something truly new," writes Seana Moran, psychology professor at Clark University in The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity. "The belief is that novelty makes a situation more uncertain for the rest of us, which gives rise to anxiety."
New innovations are often rejected simply because people don't have a point of reference for them. We resist what we don't know, hesitating to put our faith behind breakthrough ideas, so that they often face what Leslie Ehm, founder of the firm Three Training, calls the "Rejection Conundrum."
Research has backed this claim. According to Jennifer Mueller, associate professor of management at University of San Diego, people have a bias against creative ideas when faced with uncertainty.
But that rejection might be just the thing your creativity needs to thrive. Research has also shown that rejection can enhance creativity in individuals who embrace it. Scholars at Cornell University and Johns Hopkins found that being "an outcast" can result in greater creativity and commercial success.
In their study, researchers told participants that everyone would be able to choose who they worked with. But breaking the group up, they later told participants in one group that no one had chosen to work with them. The researchers then gave both groups-–the ones who'd been told they were rejected and the other group--the same challenge. The rejected participants produced more creative results. "The experience of social rejection may indeed stimulate creativity," the researchers concluded.
So, how do you overcome the sting of rejection and minimize that negative reaction from others when you present them with a new ideas? "Connecting the idea to more familiar ideas, such as previous successful projects or similar works, will … increase the odds that your idea will be seen as practical and desirable, " says David Burkus, author of the book The Myths of Creativity.
The other takeaway: start growing a thicker skin, embrace your rejection, and you may find that it feeds your creativity.


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