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So Your Idea Was Rejected

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
3 min read
So Your Idea Was Rejected

Your idea was rejected. Criticized. Dumped on. You were told to give up.

I have yet to find anyone who likes to have their ideas rejected. But if you want to succeed in innovation, you have to put yourself and your ideas out there which means you will get rejected. You have no other choice. The alternative is to avoid rejection and criticism which translates into 100% chance that your idea will never become a reality.

To set the proper expectation, your ideas will be rejected far more times than they will be accepted. In Silicon Valley, there are entrepreneurs who talked to 100’s of VC’s pitching their ideas before they got one to fund it.

In my experience, the first indication that you may be on to something great is when everyone is calling you and your idea crazy. If Elon Musk and Dean Kamen have people criticizing their ideas and calling them crazy, how can you expect anything less about your ideas?

Why does rejection hurt so much? As humans, we like to be liked and when the rejection is about something personal such as our creativity and ideas, it hurts. We take it personally since the idea is the output of our personal hard work and imagination. Our ideas are pieces of ourselves.

Renoir’s Perseverance

The great painter Renoir was laughed at and rejected not only by the public but also by his fellow artists. Today, we look at a painting by Renoir and marvel that anything so fine and beautiful could ever have been an object of scorn. When he brought one of his canvases to one of the most prominent Parisian teachers, the expert glanced at the work as said, “You are, I presume, dabbling in the paint to amuse yourself.”

Renoir replied, “Of course. When it ceases to amuse me, I will stop painting.” Everything he painted amused and delighted him, and he painted everything.

Even Manet said to Monet, “Renoir has no talent at all. You, who is his friend, should tell him kindly to give up painting.”

A group of artists who were rejected by the establishment formed their own association in self-defense. Do you know who they were? In the group were Degas, Pissarro, Monet, Cezanne, and Renoir -- five of the greatest artists at all time, all doing what they believed in, in the face of total rejection.

Have Faith

Throughout the cycles of criticism, you have to have faith and trust that the steps you are taking will lead to achieving your vision for your idea.

Steve Jobs describes this faith as, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Trust your dream, your vision and make progress every day towards achieving your goal. Trust that the dots will connect.

For The Pleasure of It

Since we’re on the subject of Renoir, in his later life he suffered terribly from rheumatism, especially in his hands. He lived in constant pain. When one of Renoir’s friends visited the aging painter, he saw that every stroke was causing renewed pain. He asked, “Why do you still have to work? Why continue to torture yourself?”

Renoir answered, “The pain passes, but the pleasure of creation, remains.”

One day, when he was 78 and quite famous and successful, he said, “I am still making progress.” He died the next day.

This is the mark of the innovator -- still making progress, still learning, still innovating as long as he lives, despite pain or criticism. He’s not innovating for the approval of others. He is innovating because he must -- because it gives him pleasure and satisfaction.

If Renoir was driven purely by the acceptance of others, he most likely would have hung up his paintbrushes given the constant barrage of criticism he received from the so-called experts and even his friends. The world would have lost the opportunity to admire his great works.

When Do You Stop?

The innovators who I coach and mentor who are struggling with rejection often ask me when they should give up.  At what point should they accept the rejection and stop trying? My answer is -- never! As long as you have a dream, something you truly believe in and wish to achieve, then keep going.

By not giving up and turning your idea into a game-changing innovation that becomes a market success, you will silence your critics -- for a brief moment. There are many examples, including JK Rowling, who continue to receive rejections after they achieved success.

Rejection and criticism never go away.

Killer Question

Search for that Renoir inside of you and ask yourself; What are you willing to innovate even in the face of criticism and rejection?

What area have you been wanting to innovate but were too afraid to start?

Don’t be afraid of possible rejection and criticism. Get used to it. It is part of the life as an innovator.

I’m Phil McKinney and thanks for listening.


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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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