Indifference Is The Enemy Of Innovation

It’s Time To “Make Rejection Great Again”

What is worse? Being rejected or being ignored?

While the pain from rejection can be severe, the closure that one gets from the rejection can allow people to move on to other things. When someone pours their heart and soul into an idea which they feel is great, then they hear nothing – nothing good or bad – then the lack of communication becomes one of the worst possible things you can do.

Studies have shown that the pain caused by ignoring individuals can in some cases be more painful than physical pain. In ancient tribes and societies, being shunned or expelled from a community could be tantamount to the death penalty. As a mostly social animal, (although recently an increase in introversion may have changed this somewhat) we crave approval and communication with others.

This is likely embedded deeply in what author Charles Duhigg calls our “dinosaur brain” the oldest part of our brain (which also happens to be where our habits are stored), as ostracism has always been a highly effective punishment – familiar to almost every high school student – you are either a somebody people pay attention to or a nobody. (Actually, if you think about it, social media has turned life itself into high school. We are all just craving likes from millions of strangers instead of our own classmates).

We all know the pain of rejection, and the pain of indifference, and we all know that the latter is worse. Why then do we ignore inventors who have submitted ideas into our innovation programs, simply because we don’t like giving them the bad news that their idea may not be the right fit right now? Or that it doesn’t solve an immediate issue. Or that the idea is untenable.

We would rather sit on the idea and not provide a response on a timely basis. What is worse: giving bad news right away, so that the inventor can take the hit, possibly feel pain for a short while, then recover?

Your typical inventor is highly inventive, it won’t be long before they come up with another, possibly even better idea. Should we wait until the inventor feels that their idea has dropped into a black hole and will never get reviewed or looked at? They ask themselves, why should I give my company any of my ideas at all, if they won’t be doing anything with them?

If they are entrepreneurial at all (and most people are nowadays) then what is to stop them from keeping their ideas to themselves and eventually leaving to found their own, competing startup? If we all know that being ignored is worse than being rejected, then why do we procrastinate in our communications, effectively ignoring others?

While I’m talking specifically about inventors and innovation programs, I think we would all be better served as humans to avoid ignoring people in general. If you think about it – no matter who is communicating with you – whether it’s a salesperson, or a customer, or a colleague, we should understand that being ignored is worse for them than being rejected.

Don’t be so afraid to reject. Speak up when you want an annoying salesperson to stop emailing you, or unsubscribe from their list, address an annoying customer, and answer that colleague in a reasonable amount of time, or at least let them know when you might be able to respond.

Some people have said that they are seeing a decline in manners due to the prevalence of audio-based virtual assistants in our homes, who simply perform tasks without a “please” or a “thank you” – some parents are seeing an alarming decline in manners and are suggesting that these assistants should have a sleep phrase of “thank you” in order to bring some manners back into the conversation.

I’d suggest that we should also bring back rejection. Instead of ghosting people, no matter the reason, have the decency to turn to them and say “no”. It’s better for you, your inventors, your company, our society, and the world.

As Elie Wiesel wrote: “The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference”. Let’s all work together to eliminate indifference.