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creativity column

The hidden power of rejection.

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What is it about creativity that scares people? Why are new ideas always met with resistance? Oscar Wilde once remarked, "An idea that is not dangerous is not worthy of being called an idea at all." I believe that an inherent bias against uncertainty and fear of the unknown is at the center of our trepidation when presented with a new idea. For work to be truly creative and groundbreaking, it must depart from the status quo of what is known or accepted and that's what makes people uncomfortable. 

Life is full of examples where ideas that were immediately rejected, came to be accepted and celebrated years later. Alfred Wegener, a German polar researcher, geophysicist and meteorologist once theorized that the Earth's continents were moving very slowly apart and have been for millions of years. His theory of continental drift was soundly rejected by most other scientists. It was only in the 1960s that his approach finally became part of mainstream science. For a long time, his idea was considered preposterous.

If you are someone who works in a creative capacity, you will need to come to terms with the fact that you are going to hear phrases like ‘no, I don't think that is what we are looking for right now." It doesn't mean your idea isn't any good; it just means that they don't currently share your passion. 

Whenever I present a new idea where I know the potential rejection level is high, I start out by sharing the origin of how the idea got created and developed. I will also give compelling reasons why I think the idea is sound and how it can evolve in the future. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But if you can ask yourself after a rejection, "What can I learn from this?” You create an opportunity to gain some wisdom. Ultimately, you get to choose how you proceed after a denial. You can either wallow in the pain of it or use it as fuel to go in another direction.

Consider J.K. Rowling, author of the wildly successful Harry Potter books. Before her first book got published, she had just lost her job, was almost broke, became recently divorced, and at one point fell into a deep depression while sitting on dozens of rejection letters for her unpublished manuscript about a boy wizard. She even admitted at one low point during the writing of the first book that she was got so despondent she considered suicide. 

Then, a small publishing house in London, Bloomsbury, took a chance on her story and published the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997. Her series of seven books has since sold more than 450 million copies, won innumerable awards, been made into eight movies, and captivated millions of readers around the globe, thus transforming Rowling's life forever.

If you remove the emotion from a rejection, you can harness the hidden power it contains. I won't try and sugarcoat it. Rejection sucks. But like most unpleasant experiences in life, if you can evaluate it and learn from it, you can move forward with a renewed confidence. 


William ChildsComment