Image from Wikimedia Commons
When Nathaniel Lee, the 17th century English dramatist, was confined to Bedlam – the original mental asylum, in London – he is reported to have uttered these words:
They called me mad, and I called them mad, and damn them, they outvoted me.
I think a lot of creative people can relate to this, even if we haven’t been sectioned in a mental asylum.
By definition, creative ideas are new, they haven’t been tried and tested before – and we have a natural fear of being ridiculed or ‘outvoted’ by people who don’t share our conviction that this is a Truly Brilliant Idea. So it often takes persistence and a thick skin to succeed.
I was quite good at [long distance running], not because I was physically good, but because I had more determination. I learned determination from it.
Those are the words of inventor James Dyson, whose innovative bagless vacuum cleaner was rejected by all the major manufacturers and distributors. But he was too determined to give up, and launched his own factory to built the Dyson cleaner – which went on to become a huge success.
Examiner.com’s list of 30 famous authors whose works were (repeatedly and rudely) rejected includes Vladimire Nabokov, John Grisham, Sylvia Plath, Rudyard Kipling, Jack Kerouac, Ursula Le Guin, William Faulkner, George Orwell, Stephen King, Marcel Proust and D.H. Lawrence. Imagine how much poorer the literary world would have been if they hadn’t persisted.
Leonardo’s notebooks are full of weird and wonderful creations, including several flying machines that would never have got off the ground. But according to a Channel 4 documentary, not all of the designs were flawed.
And we can all be grateful that the proponents of ‘talkies’ persisted in spite of this withering put-down from H.M. Warner – one of the legendary Warner Brothers:
Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?
In my own career, I took a leap of faith when I added a blog to my website five years ago, and started giving away my ideas and advice for free, ignoring my concerned friends and colleagues who told me I “should be charging for that stuff”.
It took another leap of faith to start delivering coaching via the internet and invest time in creating e-learning programs as well as live workshops. Plenty of people told me it was practically impossible to make a living on the web because “people expect everything to be free online”. But it’s working out very nicely now.
Of course, it’s easy to say ‘I told you so’ with the benefit of hindsight. But it’s also true that plenty of doubters are proved right – as many ‘brilliant’ ideas turn out to be futile.
So how can you decide whether your idea is worth pursuing, in the face of your own doubts and others’ scepticism?
Sadly, there’s no way to be sure, but here are a couple of questions I ask myself when weighing up a new idea:
- Have I seen something like it in work in another context? Extrapolation is more reliable than creating something out of thin air. E.g. Dyson got the idea for using cyclones instead of a bag in his vacuum cleaner when he saw a sawmill using cyclones to expel waste.
- What’s my gut feeling? Sometimes I just know it’s going to work – even if it takes a lot of adjustment and determination along the way.
Another really important thing I do is hang around with people who ‘get it’. When I saw some of my ‘offline’ friends were sceptical about the potential of blogging and online entrepreneurship, I stopped talking about it to them. Instead, I made friends with other bloggers, coaches and entrepreneurs who were on a similar journey, and we provide each other with encouragement and support along the way.
How about You?
Do you ever worry that your latest great idea may in fact be futile?
How do you decide whether to persist with an idea or give up on it?
Have you had an experience of persisting in spite of the doubts – and doubters – and being proved right?
About the Author: Mark McGuinness is a Coach for Artists, Creatives and Entrepreneurs. For a free 25-week guide to success as a creative professional, sign up for Mark’s course The Creative Pathfinder.