Heartfelt criticism of your idea or your art is usually right (except when it isn’t…)
Check out this letter from the publisher of a magazine you’ve never heard of to the founder of a little magazine called Readers Digest:
“Personally, I don’t see how you will be able to get enough subscribers to support it. It is expensive for its size. It isn’t illustrated… I have my doubts about the undertaking as a publishing venture”.
Of course, he was right–given his assumptions. And that’s the except part.
Criticism of your idea is usually based on assumptions about the world as it is. How was the publisher to know that the world would change it’s reading habits and turn Readers Digest into a multi-million dollar empire.
Think about Damien Hirst for a second. The world’s richest living artist. He could never have made it as an artist in the world as it was. He was one of the first modern artists to sell directly to buyers (cutting out the dealers and auction houses).
He also took the unprecedented step of having a price list of his obscenely expensive creations without explaining the logic of their existence to justify their price tag – fine art, cows in formaldehyde, bottles of religious drugs, diamond encrusted skulls… He broke many barriers to clear the way for a new generation of artists who now don’t know any differently. In the beginning though, Hirst himself was written off by the art world because he was too rock’n’roll!
- Harry Potter was rejected by just about everyone because for it to succeed the way kids read would have to change.
- Starbuck’s didn’t listen when they were told, “No-one will pay $4 for a cup of coffee. Not even in New York”.
- Analysts said that the world’s biggest book retailer needed to be on every High Street. Apparently no-one told that to Amazon.
Big ideas are always resisted initially because things need to change in order for them to succeed.
This is why asking for advice, confirmation or encouragement is always going to be tough if you’ve come up with a game changing idea. And asking close friends never works quite as well as you hope, either. It’s not that they deliberately want to be unhelpful. It’s just they don’t know your world one millionth as well as you know your world, no matter how hard they try, no matter how hard you try to explain.
Plus, a big idea will change you. Your friends may love you, but they don’t want you to change. If you change, then their dynamic with you also changes. They like things the way they are, that’s how they love you—the way you are, not the way you may become.
Therefore, your friends and colleagues have no incentive to see you change. And they will be resistant to anything that catalyzes it. That’s human nature. And you would do the same, if the shoe were on the other foot.
With business colleagues, it’s even worse. They’re used to dealing with you in a certain way. They’re used to having a certain level of control over the relationship. And they want whatever makes them more prosperous. Sure, they might prefer it if you prosper as well, but that’s not their top priority.
If your idea is so good that it changes your dynamic enough to where you need them less or, God forbid, THE MARKET needs them less, then they’re going to resist your idea every chance they can.
Again, that’s human nature.
Good ideas alter the power balance in relationships, that’s why they are always initially resisted. Good ideas come with a heavy burden, which is why so few people have them. Most people can’t handle it.
The useful element of this sort of criticism isn’t that the fact that people in the status quo don’t like your idea. Of course they don’t. The interesting question is: “What is it about the way the world is now, that would have to change for your idea to be important?”
In the case of Readers Digest, the key thing that changed was the makeup of who was reading magazines. Most of the people (and it was a lot of people) who subscribed to the Digest didn’t read other magazines. And so comparing to other magazines made no sense, except to say, “this is so different from other magazines, the only way you’re going to succeed is by selling it to millions of people who don’t read those magazines.”
“Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world…” Margaret Mead
Starbucks had no chance if they were going to focus on the sort of person who bought coffee at Dunkin Donuts or a diner, and the iPad couldn’t possibly succeed if people were content to use computers the way they were already using them. Keep that in mind the next time a gatekeeper or successful trendsetter explains why you’re going to fail.
Hugh McCloud, “How to be Creative” Change This [Issue 6.05]
Seth Godin’s Blog, “Interpreting Critisism” 10/9/10