You don’t have to be at the top to be lone­ly. Pio­neers with new ideas know the feel­ing, too.

These thoughts came to mind after read­ing Patrick Allan’s (@mr_patrickallan) keen obser­va­tions on a Life­hack­er blog. On one post, he dis­cuss­es “Build Your Cre­ative Resilience with the Rejec­tion You Receive” [link] pair­ing it with anoth­er post, “How (and Why) to Devel­op Your Men­tal Tough­ness” [link].

In the for­mer post, which is short, Allan comes right to the point: “Try­ing to be cre­ative and think out­side of the box won’t always go in your favor. Rejec­tion will knock you down con­stant­ly, but in actu­al­i­ty, that rejec­tion is your train­ing for devel­op­ing strong cre­ative endurance.”

In the lat­ter blog post, which is much more detailed, he explains four major ways that a thought leader can avoid the pains of feel­ing apart, if not reject­ed, from an organ­i­sa­tion because of one’s for­ward-think­ing ideas. As he says at the end of the sec­ond post, “Devel­op­ing men­tal tough­ness is a process and it’s not some­thing you can con­jure overnight. It takes a lot of patience and a con­scious effort to become more resilient. Some things are big­ger than all of us, but men­tal tough­ness can be your armor that glances the small­er blows away.”

Man Walking Tightrope

Since nextsens­ing can be a process in which idea cham­pi­ons can feel reject­ed and alone, at least at first, here are a few obser­va­tions I would add to the subject.

  • Get­ting it wrong is part of get­ting it right. When some­one puts for­ward a new idea, it is sel­dom (if ever) per­fect­ed and free from defects. Thus, it is nor­mal for peo­ple to pull back from sup­port­ing the idea. The key is to press on: improve the idea, sharp­en its sell­ing points, and use the dis­com­fort of being (in part) wrong as a moti­va­tor for mak­ing the idea more acceptable.
  • Ear­ly on, seek feed­back, not praise! Once a new idea is formed in one’s mind, it’s hard to avoid antic­i­pat­ing the roar of your audi­ence when you present it. Then, too, often when some­one asks a group — “So, what do you think?” — he or she is not tru­ly seek­ing feed­back but praise. Any­thing short of praise is tak­en as rejec­tion. Real feed­back is often painful, espe­cial­ly if you are pas­sion­ate about the idea and thus emo­tion­al­ly attached to it. Real feed­back is also invalu­able: cher­ish it! While it is true that good cre­ativ­i­ty gov­er­nance pro­hibits crit­i­cis­ing ideas too ear­ly in the process, that does not always hap­pen. Organ­i­sa­tions should allow ideas to exist and encour­age oth­ers to con­sid­er them with­out pre­ma­ture­ly ditch­ing them. If you are fac­ing harsh rejec­tion for your ideas, one way to counter it is to request that your idea be giv­en a “pre­mortem” (as opposed to post­mortem) and try to build on the crit­i­cisms that oth­ers present on why your idea may seem dead on arrival.
  • Being a pio­neer is not being being secre­tive. I have met peo­ple with great ideas, ones that could tru­ly change the future of their com­pa­ny. But the fear of rejec­tion means that they keep the lid on their ideas. They believe that the ideas, locked safe in a desk, file cab­i­net or hard dri­ve, will remain safe and unchal­lenged. They’re right. And as a result the idea goes nowhere. Ever.
  • Antic­i­pate the organ­i­sa­tion­al immune sys­tem. Every firm seems to enjoy the sta­tus quo, even when it is no longer a viable oper­at­ing plan. The fir­m’s immune sys­tem pro­vides a nat­ur­al defence against new ideas and change in gen­er­al. Like our body’s immune sys­tem, such a defence serves an impor­tant role for organ­i­sa­tions (for, indeed, some ideas could be destruc­tive). Yet, all ideas are not bad ideas, so over­com­ing a cor­po­rate immune sys­tem is the explic­it work of the cre­ative and the inno­v­a­tive. Know your ene­my, so to speak, and pre­pare your argu­ments accord­ing­ly. Good ideas must be defend­ed against unjust criticism.
  • Always remem­ber that inno­va­tion hap­pens at its own rhythm. An idea must start in the head of one per­son, but — to thrive — the idea must even­tu­al­ly gain social val­i­da­tion (with col­leagues and cus­tomers) so it can be read­ied for the organ­i­sa­tion as a whole. If you try to skip steps or jump ahead pre­ma­ture­ly, you and your idea will strug­gle. It is crit­i­cal that your sell­ing of the idea fall in sync with the wider organ­i­sa­tion — from plan­ning cycles and cap­i­tal bud­get­ing to find­ing the best time to seek accep­tance. Push­ing ahead and per­se­ver­ance are para­mount here, but so is tim­ing. Know when to raise your head and your hand and know when to bear down and fly under the radar.

Nan­cy Astor, the first woman to be elect­ed to the British Par­lia­ment (1919), once com­ment­ed, “Pio­neers may be pic­turesque fig­ures, but they are often rather lone­ly ones.” Yet, from what I have seen, if pio­neers per­se­vere and man­age their ideas and their own pres­ence cor­rect­ly, that lone­li­ness is only temporary.

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