Why Rejection May Be the Mark of Great Innovation

Creative Leadership

By Think Jar Collective contributor Leslie Ehm

We’re always being asked for ‘new ideas’. “Innovation!” they shout from the rooftops – clients, bosses, head office. But why then, when we bring them something new do we invariably get blank stares, stressed faces or outright rejection? Don’t they recognize something new and challenging when they see it? The problem is – yes, they do. And with new and challenging comes a set of opposing ingrained responses.  In fact, the more innovative the solution, the more likely it is to get rejected

But why??  Here’s three little tidbits to help explain the Rejection Conundrum.




Blame it on the brain stem: We’re literally programmed to be afraid of something we don’t understand. Our brains were designed that way to protect us. The brain stem AKA the Reptilian Brain creates a powerful barrier that very quickly filters and then rejects anything that it doesn’t immediately have point of reference for – triggering the classic fight, flight or freeze instinct. This was useful when it was us against nature, but not so much anymore. Now we mistakenly call it ‘gut’ instinct. But you need to know its happening when trying to persuade people.






pigeon holeNo point of reference: We love to be able to put things into categories. When something defies categorization, our confidence slips away because we feel like we can’t tap into our own knowledge base. This makes us sweat because we try to imagine bringing the idea to life and all we can see are blank spaces which we mistake for ‘problems’. Truth is, we have no idea if they’re problems or not, because we have, well, no idea. Better safe than sorry though – so rejection ensues with a curt ‘it’ll be too tough to make that happen’.





No trust: Sometimes relationships, even rapport alone, can make a person accept something that makes them uncomfortable. That’s why those who sell best win. Just look at the advertising world for examples. How many times have you encountered an ad and gone “huh”?? Someone somewhere convinced an audience to buy it. Trust will do that. It allows us to not transcend, but skirt around our fears because we’re confident in deferring to someone else’s judgment. Whereas we don’t have to truly accept the new idea, we believe that those who ‘know better’ have found the answer.





Now that you better understand why – I bet you’d love to know how to counteract this nasty little syndrome. Ha! What better way to get you to stay tuned than to promise the answers in my next post. Stay tuned!


Leslie Ehm is the President  & Chief Fire Starter at Combustion – a training and development company that sets organizational productivity and people on fire through applied creativity.

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