You are not your ideas – a strategy to lessen the blow of rejection

Inspired by @dys_morphia on Twitter, I’ve decided to document my strategy for dealing with rejection of ideas. This particular approach came from a discussion with James Ross and Simon Harris many years ago working with on a consulting project.

James, Simon and I were discussing a bunch of ideas about design and implementation. We were thrashing through them thick and fast and each of us were proposing particular solutions which would be then unceremoniously torn apart by the others. To people outside our little gathering it really looked like we were intent on destruction. ¬†Nothing could be further from the truth, as even though the other 2 are mostly wrong about everything and can’t see the genius of my ideas, as the respect for our work and our worth is paramount in these discussions. Few ideas survived the withering attacks, yet none of us felt harm, hurt or lacking in respect from the participants.

After we’d been doing this for a while, we started to reflect on why this is such an “easy” task for the 3 of us to perform, yet it appears to be very stressful for others. We talked a lot about rejection and about how people feel very close affinity to their ideas and proposals, and that rejection (or criticism) of them is like a personal attack.

James made this very clear explanation about how he thinks about ideas, and why Simon and I probably feel the same way – yet others struggle.

He said(*), “Many people hold their ideas close to themselves, their ideas are hugged, like a teddy to the chest, so any attack on the idea is in very close proximity to themselves and attacks hit not only the idea, but the person behind the idea. The idea is precious, there’s not many of them, and each one is special and nurtured and getting new ideas is a hard thing to do”.

This was compared to what we do, “We feel our ideas are like balls. We generate them, we toss them into the ring for people to observe and comment on. They’re cheap and cheerful and colourful and we know there is a bucket of them we can just keep getting new ones from. Sure, some are special and different in their own way, but the ideas are tossed away from our selves, and criticism of the size and colour of the balls are clearly not directed at the person”

I don’t want people to think that James, Simon and I are reckless, or foolhardy, or don’t care about our ideas. There’s often very heated debate about our thoughts, our dreams, our visions (and our fears) when we engage in these conversations. It’s just that we realise that our ideas have a life of their own, and it’s our job to bring them to life – we’re the parent of those ideas. We’re not part of the ideas.

If you’re an aspiring artist, a software designer, a poet, an author – or even just somebody trying to work out where to go for lunch, then consider setting your ideas free – toss them away and give them life of their own. You’ve already done the important work in the communication. You can’t be held responsible for how others react to your ideas, any more than you can be held responsible for other people liking your choice in bikes (even though there is a clear right answer here) and more importantly, by giving life and freedom to the ideas, you’re making it clear of a very important fact,¬†you are not your ideas.

(*) I can’t remember exactly what was said, so I’m going to make up the story to convey the intent.