If you’ve ever watched a classic cartoon, like an old Mickey Mouse (or a really old Felix the Cat), you’ve probably seen a character have an idea represented by an illuminated lightbulb over their heads.
Though thoroughly clichéd, the lightbulb is a great symbol for an idea –lightbulbs (and ideas) are bright, electric, and lead others to you. But if you’ve ever had an idea, you’ll know that some of those people attracted to your lightbulb are naysayers. Naysayers are like people carrying huge hammers, ready to smash your lightbulb to smithereens.
Naysayers can make you feel bad and discourage you from pursuing your idea. They can also serve an important purpose in strengthening an idea. If your lightbulb survives the naysayer’s hammer, it must be a pretty strong idea after all.
Naysayers Pose a Risk
Naysayers pose two distinct risks at different stages of the entrepreneurial process.
First, when you’re starting your business (or even just thinking of an idea), a naysayer can discourage you. The naysayer might suggest you are making a big mistake in quitting your stable job, or that your idea will never work.
The important thing is to realize that naysayers at this stage could potentially derail your entire venture by planting doubts in your head. Some doubt is good (more on that later), but too much and you will be too afraid to act. This is why incubators are notorious for limiting negatives of any kind. When first starting out, don’t let the naysayers paralyze you.
The second biggest threat from naysayers comes when you’ve already assembled a team.
Toxic naysayers who are part of the team can undermine the morale of everyone. Most successful startups have a degree of ‘evangelism’ among the followers. These followers believe in the idea and have given up cushy jobs to help you with your startup. If there’s an extreme naysayer among your ranks, the others can begin doubting your purpose and your “why”, and productivity will fall drastically.
You might even lose some of your team members if they become too afraid of the risks they’re taking by being on your team.
Don’t Let the Naysayers Get to You
According to Psychology Today, the first thing to do is to sort the good criticism from the bad. Some criticism will be constructive, and some will be destructive, and you need to keep a level head and tell the two apart. Constructive feedback can help you improve your idea, but destructive feedback will only ever make you feel bad without actually contributing anything of substance.
Destructive feedback is more common today than ever with the onset of internet-enabled trolls and a culture of anonymous haters. If you ask any creator of any kind, whether a comedian, a musician, or a startup founder, you’ll find that they all have trouble focusing on the positive messages they receive. They might get 99 nice comments and just one hateful one, but the hateful one often sticks with them.
The trick to building a thick skin for these hateful comments is to remember your goal and your self-worth. If you know why your idea is good and why you’re pursuing it, you can better tune out destructive criticism from the people who haven’t invested any time, energy, money, or even thought into your idea.
When it comes down to it, no one knows your idea like you do, so you should have confidence that you know more about what you’re doing than the hater who writes “Burn it with fire”!!
Or more useless suggestions of its ilk.
Making Use of Naysayers
While you shouldn’t let naysayers get you down, they can serve a valuable purpose. A devil’s advocate can make your idea significantly stronger. A brand new idea is like crude oil or a big chunk of ore right out of the mine: there might be something of real value inside, but you need to refine it first before you can sell it. The naysayer who is willing to work with you to refine your idea is the most valuable member of your team.
In this respect, many people try to be their own naysayer: they identify the obstacles to success for their idea. This can be successful to an extent, but everyone can benefit from hearing someone else’s perspective. Something that might be behind a mental block for you might be obvious to your helpful naysayer.
No new idea is perfect, which means it isn’t necessarily personal if you get pushback or criticism. But it is also true that there are spiteful people who will make you feel bad just for having an idea. If you can learn to tune out the haters and embrace the devil’s advocates, you’ll go far.
One more thing: Don’t be a hater for other people’s ideas. If someone comes to you with an idea, encourage them to keep exploring, even if you think the idea does not sound too good at this point. And if the other person is willing, talk to them about the obstacles you see and tell them you think they can work to overcome those obstacles. Be the naysayer for others that you’d want to be a naysayer for you.