Great ideas often get rejected. Here’s why, and what to do about it


Great ideas often get rejected. Here’s why, and what to do about it



When Steve Wozniak came up with an idea for a ‘personal computer’ and showed it to his employer at the time, HP, it wasn’t received well at all. Because why on earth would ordinary people need a computer? The idea was ridiculous, and got rejected enough times for Wozniak to agree go elsewhere. He started Apple with Steve Jobs, and the rest is history. Apple is now worth $750 billion. If Apple was a country, it would be the 17th most valuable country in the world. Just let that sink in.

Great ideas get rejected all the time. The list of stories is endless. But the frequency with which great ideas are rejected is not limited to the big, famous stories. It happens in organisations. It’s probably happening in yours right now. I’ve lost count of the amount of times a company’s management team is agonising over how to ‘foster an innovative culture’ while rejecting truly creative ideas left right and centre. Now of course there are many reasons for why this happens. A company might not have the processes in place that allow them to test ideas quickly and leanly, they might not have the right strategies and structures in place that allow creativity to flourish in the right strategic direction. But that’s not all. There’s something else happening as well. Something that goes a lot deeper into our psyche.

An idea is creative when it has two elements. It is new, and it is useful. And it’s the ‘new’ element that trips us up. New means away from the status quo. And away from the status quo means increased levels of uncertainty, which is a state we naturally try to diminish as much and as quickly as we possibly can. Our desire for stability and structure is strong. We have a bias against creative ideas, hardwired into our brain. And to make matters worse, research by Jennifer Mueller, Shimul Melwani, and Jack Goncalo showed that in face of uncertainty, we are also less able to recognise creativity. The irony!

So, if you have been sitting on a truly creative idea, be mindful of the anti-creativity bias and the effect of uncertainty. Here’s how to pitch your way to success:

  1. Position your idea in a way that focusses more on the useful and less on the novel element, and it will be perceived to be less threatening to the status quo
  2. Try to avoid pitching during times of uncertainty. If you do end up pitching during a time when feelings of uncertainty are high (and chances are you are – this is often when innovative ideas are needed most!), try to frame your idea in a way that sounds more familiar, and less creative. Has a similar idea (or element of an idea) been successful in another industry? Be sure to make the link.

If you would like any more information on creativity, better decision-making processes, or just dealing with biases in innovation in general (or anything else innovation related!), please let me know via; I’m always up for a chat!

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