My wife and I were recently discussing an interesting initiative with our son. He and his friends have this big, bold and really audacious idea about including children and young citizens under the age of eighteen into the governance process even though they are not allowed to cast their “vote” – after all, why should the democracy be reserved only for the voting class? Just because they can’t vote, none of the political parties even acknowledge their ‘presence’, much less engage with them for a dialog (never mind that at 44%, they constitute our largest ‘minority’). The worst part – they will grow up to be the newest voters without any awareness whatsoever into the political process! This year alone, we added 100 million first-time voters, and yet, as a country, we have no mechanism to tap them young, and engage with them into the nation-building process. Their idea has a merit, for our country has 500 million citizens under the age of 18, and very aptly, they call it “18minus“.
They are currently working on how to take their idea forward, and have come up with a bunch of ideas, and some of them have good merit while some of them seemed to be populist measures – stuff that might get you a headline in a city daily but might not take them closer to the goal. While letting them figure out what’s best for them, I was urging him to think really B-I-G, when I ended up blurting –
“Get me 200 rejections and let’s talk…”
After I said it, I started thinking the meaning of what I just said, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. Here are some self-conversations on it:
Rejection means you are thinking new. Nothing new here, but sadly, we still ignore this basic tenet. Quite often, we take a self-serving initial hypothesis that very closely matches our own ideas about the world, and test it inside familiar territory (friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, etc.) and if it succeeds, we end up blissfully believing that we now have external validation to our idea, so let’s proceed with it. In our hearts, we badly want that validation, thatsocial approval to go ahead and chase the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Getting a rejection is not only a heartbreak event, it also potentially jeopardizes our relationship with those closest to us (and that very thought perhaps either stops us from sharing highly contentious ideas with them, or them sharing their true feedback on our idea?).
However, when you are thinking really big, something radically different, something totally new to the world, anything other than a rejection only means you are simply doing a linear thinking. If people wholeheartedly (or even partially) say yes to your idea, it only means what you are telling them matches their existing mental models, and hence they believe that might be a good idea. It is also very likely that there might be many more already thinking on similar lines.
Repeated rejections are awesome! In a random sample of respondents, there will always be a mixed bag of opinions about your idea. However, if you are thinking really big, you are more likely to hear a resounding NO from just about everyone. Suppose you hear the first NO, what do you do? You probably ‘listen’ to that feedback and ‘adapt’ your idea to suit what people might be looking for – you basically try to conform to what people expect. So, the next time, you are more likely to get a feeble YES than a strong NO. You keep iterating till you come to the point when there is a resounding YES to your idea and that’s when you’ve hit home run. However, what happened to your big bold audacious idea in that process? You probably twisted and adapted it so many times that what you are now serving is what people are comfortable with. In short, you are matching their thoughts.
But what if you want to change their thinking, or show them a vision so radical, they can’t even imagine it in their dreams? As Charles Kettering said “Every great improvement has come after repeated failures. Virtually nothing comes out right the first time. Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success“.
What doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. If you actually go out and talk to 200 people and don’t give up, not only your own story will get much cleaner, your own conviction about the idea will be sky-high. So, if you are still standing tall after those 200 rejections, then boy, do you have something in you – apart from the idea! If not for anything else, just go out and make those 200 naysayers eat crow…
Vincent van Gogh painted 800 paintings, but sold only one during his lifetime (that too, to a friend), Walt Disney was rejected 302 times, Col Sanders was rejected 1009 times for his famous secret chicken recipe, JK Rowling was rejected 12 times…the list simply goes on…What if any of them had decided to stop pursuing their ideas at the first, or second or the third rejection, or worse still – adapted their ideas to the feedback? As George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”.
Finally, don’t ‘think’ to please others! If the only reason you ‘think’ is so that you could think along what others are thinking, you might as well not think at all! Life is too precious to be lived in ‘more of same’ format.
Now, what are you thinking? Are you thinking what I think you are thinking?