You know the drill. You were given a plum assignment. You retreated to your grotto, spent hours in thought and research, landed on an idea, and began the process of chiseling out the masterpiece. “This is it”, you thought.
A momentary fantasy invades – you’re being lifted onto shoulders, the crowd chants your name, you’re promoted to Sr VP of Brilliance.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, you finish your presentation and the client pauses thoughtfully. “Uhh… what else do you have?”
You’ve been shot down like a fat squirrel from a Swamp Cyprus. Your head’s spinning. Your ears burn. The temptation to defend wells up in your guts.
We’ve all been there. Whether you’re an Art Director or an Actuary, we’ve all had our inner genius slaughtered on the presentation alter. I certainly have… more times than I care to count. The deflation and frustration are real. And really hard to swallow. But I've learned that once I recover from the punch to the throat, a moment of real clarity can magically dawn... if I can keep 3 things in mind:
1. It’s not about me.
Few things are more hurtful than having our ideas rejected. But when Rejection takes a leak on my shoes, it’s time to retreat to the basics– the most basic of which is, it’s not about me. The universe, and everything in it, doesn’t revolve around me and my ideas. It doesn’t owe me anything. So when I fall in love with my own idea I can lose sight of my immediate purpose, which is solving the clients communication challenge. Their best interest needs to be at the center of my current world… not me and my ego. I don’t need to be offended. I need to recalculate.
2. My client has a lot of insight for me.
When the urge to defend wells up it's time to listen, not talk. My client has spent more time with their customers, products, and services than I ever will. They have a bank of insights and ideas that are hard-won by time and experience. They may not always know how to express those ideas. But my job is to extract as much from them as I can. The extraction process is more about asking good questions and listening than it is about talking and persuading. If my idea gets rejected, it’s likely because I’m missing information – information my client possesses.
3. Back to the drawing board isn’t a setback… it’s a second chance.
On December 10, 1914 a massive fire erupted in Thomas Edison’s West Orange New Jersey plant. As the legend goes, he told his young son Charles, “Go get your mother and all her friends. They'll never see a fire like this again." When Charles objected, Edison said, "It's all right. We've just got rid of a lot of rubbish."
What if our rejection is viewed as an exercise in getting rid of rubbish, rather than a personal assault? Grinding a blade to a sharp edge happens with friction. Extracting pure gold from the rock happens with fire. Why would we think that weaving an idea to perfection comes without wrestling and tension? It’s a grueling, refining process that leave some ideas in the heap, and keeps only the ones that solve problems.
If you’ve ever nailed it on the first try, congratulations. I would caution you not to get used to it. It usually takes more work than that.