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Riding The Storm Of Scepticism And Apathy For Innovators, Entrepreneurs And Pioneers - Part II

Written by: David Paul Jacobs, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


In my last article, Riding The Storm of Scepticism and Apathy for Innovators, Entrepreneurs and Pioneers, I covered ways to address some of the inevitable challenges those who seek to make progress will encounter. Here, I’m going to extend the theme and look at managing other challenges (and exploiting opportunities) that will likely arise along the way. Last time, I suggested that pioneers, innovators and entrepreneurs can gauge the quality of their ideas for proposed new products or services by the virulence of the comments they experience ‒ the more virulent the comments, the better the idea! Actually, that supposition may not be so mischievous; I’ve experienced it first-hand, seen it happen to others and read about many instances. As I haven’t been able to run a stratified experiment on this please feel free to let me know your experiences and whether they match my supposition.

Anyway, let’s get back to business! Remember, it’s not by any means all bad news; the greater the storm, the brighter your resultant rainbow. So how will you address the doubters who try to hold back your tide of progress? The King Canute story may be apocryphal but it’s a nice image so here it is! If you are facing challenges like the depiction above then read on.

Addressing Ridicule And Jealousy

If the Wright Brothers had listened to the ridicule, where would we be? A leading patent official in the US said in 1899 that everything that could be invented had been invented. Thomas Watson Jnr president of IBM said in 1943 that there was a ‘worldwide market for maybe five computers’! Ken Olsen, president of the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), said ‘nobody would want a computer in their home’, and that was in 1977 literally around the time Messrs Gates, Jobs, Wozniak and co were starting to gear up! Need I go on? You can buy books full of quotations like these. Nobody really knows how things will go or knows all the answers. Come on people, be humble, be open, be bold, tell the truth.

They killed off Socrates for telling the truth. They imprisoned Galileo for similar so-called misdemeanour. They (the naysayers) thought the Earth was flat and that the Sun revolved around it. That clever man knew better… the world is full of people who think they know better; you will likely encounter pomposity in fairly substantial quantities. Stick with it if you think you can move the world on in a certain respect – you probably can. Many will try to hold you back, stemming from jealousy, naivety, protectionism or just not being willing to change, even when such a change is inevitable. Better to cooperate with progress than fight it; but some (even many) don’t get this.

However, although there will be plenty of critics, there will also be some who do get it. And there will be those who sit on the fence and take years to take on board a simple message; but be patient, you will get there…

Market Forces Help And Hinder

Market forces play a part, of course. Technology and societal change put long-established businesses out of business (unless they adapt). For example, Blockbuster went bust! Cigarette companies have been fighting off the inevitable for decades now. Remember that in the 19th century, cigarettes were believed to be good for you, and clear out your lungs. Well, at least they were promoted that way. We live in an ever-changing kaleidoscope of technological change and there are opportunities and dead ends to deal with. Vigilant thinking and open-mindedness is the key in this day and age.

Collaborate As Much As Possible

Collaboration is good. 8 billion souls inhabit this planet, work with them, don’t try to get ‘one up’ as happens in the milieu most of us live and work in. For most of us democracy, capitalism and the resultant competition and adversarial behaviour can be a blessing or a curse, often both at the same time. Take this reality on board, don’t fight it, work with it. Do you really want or need a better house, car, wife, husband, etc than your peers, neighbours or colleagues?!

In this so-called democratic capitalist (with a tad of avowedly desirable/justifiable inbuilt socialism) world most of us live in, there are good and bad elements to deal with. It’s a free market, which is good. But commercial players naturally try to get one up on each other to make their turnover and profits and that inevitably leads to some bad behaviour, corporately and/or by organisations who should know/behave better*. I’m not saying that democratic capitalism is bad… I’m just saying we need to be cognisant of its pros and cons. Churchill said democracy was the worst system, apart from all the others. One could say that about capitalism as well, and many do.

* At this point I was about to rattle off a list of corporations and organisations that had behaved very badly in recent times, mainly in the UK and USA, but then I thought better of it. They know who they are, and you know who they are. Just be aware they do what they do. Watch out, it happens. Oh ok, here are a few examples to help you stay aware: Boeing (737 Max – a sad case study in itself in how not to use IT/software but also an example of perniciously damaging behaviour of the management in pulling the wool over the FAA’s eyes as well the eyes of the airlines and pilots; commercially overdriven underhand behaviour), the UK Post Office scandal (736 sub-postmasters were wrongly prosecuted for misappropriation of funds, all due to a fault in the Horizon computer system), Enron (false accounting), Worldcom (false accounting), Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) scandal in the UK in 2008 (poor management especially of client investments).

By the way, I worked for three of the five companies mentioned above! As a freelancer/contractor. However, personally, apart from a bit of twitchy behaviour from the management I experienced at Worldcom and the Post Office in London (which I managed to turn around by sticking to my guns and politely and persistently focusing on steering them towards productivity by revealing some evident flaws in the as-was modus operandi) I was treated fairly well at those institutions. That decent treatment included a spell at Fujitsu, the providers of the Horizon IT system for the Post Office. However, in retrospect, my time at RBS in 2007/8 in Middlesex had all the hallmarks of what happened when the company was forced to take a £45.5 billion bailout from the UK government, amounting to the UK taxpayer having to take around an 80% stake in the company. I had made, as has been my habit over my career, a fair few productivity suggestions and volunteered to lead or contribute to initiatives to implement the suggested ideas. The response I got, on several occasions, amounted to astonishingly myopic and discourteous arrogance. Oh, it all adds up now in retrospect.

Stay vigilant people, it will pay you; and keep credibility in yourself. Some very senior people will try to knock you off your perch, don’t let them. You are probably the progress they can’t get their heads around.

Pace Your Efforts ‒ Don’t Wait For Perfection

Remember, with regard to timescales, your idea, product or service does not have to be perfect from the start. Don’t wait until it is perfect, or you may be waiting forever, and so may the world. Once your product or service is significantly better than what’s already out there (if there is anything in that field), start rolling it out if you believe in it. You can then continually upgrade and improve it. Your customers will benefit earlier that way.

Find Your Style Of Evangelism, Crusade With Verve

With respect to getting your message over, in the days when I was frustrated that what I considered were simple and self-evident messages were not getting through, I often wondered if I should become gruffer and/or pushier, being on the milder side of personality. Well, I’m not so mild these days since I realised it was the world not understanding me and not me not understanding them! Now they live up to my expectations and not vice-versa.

Ultimately, I found the approach that works for me is to be polite but truthful, firm and persistent. I don’t knock people if they don’t get it, I just keep putting information in front of them until they do. I focus on what I believe will take them to where they are trying to go … The beauty of taking this approach is that although you will have sleepless nights about paying your bills and looking after your family financially whilst developing/marketing your product/service, you at least will retain confidence in yourself and not have misgivings about your own behaviour. Leave the bad behaviours to others, there’s plenty of that around. By the way, for me, being polite and respectful to others doesn’t mean not standing up for truth, fact, reality and progress. Those who delude themselves that something is true that is not, lose out and hold us all back. You have to break eggs to make an omelette so don’t be afraid to have a few people be upset by your propositions and assertions; there will always be those who get fidgety, feigning afront or otherwise.

Protect Your Idea

Protect your idea as much as you can even though legally this is not a perfect science, or is that art? Protection is usually conducted on a best endeavours basis. Other players will flout the legalities and you will have to take action if you think it’s worth it. Just put the basics in place as soon as is sensible (it costs money). There are trademarks, patents, copyrights, etc. Check with a good lawyer. Harking back to my former article, James Dyson was laughed out of town by Hoover and Electrolux when he enthusiastically visited them with his excellent quantum leap idea for new vacuum cleaner technology. I know how he felt, I really do. It’s the irony, the double whammy of life, you have a great idea and a great contribution to make but those who you think would be most supportive are the opposite – and you have re-mortgaged your home to support your beliefs and ambitions! When the other manufacturers copied Sir James’s ideas (oh they will people, believe me) he sued Hoover for £4 million and won. You will have to decide whether it’s worth it, will you win, do you care? Mimicry is a compliment but is it the kind of compliment you want?! Mimicry is inevitable because once you break through and the naysayers change their tune many will want to be in on the bandwagon. The naysayers and any competitors you may have will say ‘We’ve been saying/doing that for years’. ‘Oh have you really?’ you will think. It’s a successful pioneer’s lot, you can’t escape it, I don’t think. Let me know if you know how to avoid this. Lead, drive, be proactive and you will get there.

Decide What Success Means For You

My next tip is to decide what success means for you. You don’t have to create a world-beating product or service to be viable and make progress for yourself and your customers.

You do not have to bring about a quantum leap in a product, service, technology or an aspect of societal well-being to achieve success for yourself or others. We are all here on this planet to make our unique contribution, we can, and we will. So, when you set out to ride your storm, remember you don’t have to change the whole world to improve your world and that of those around you. The person who decides whether you’re a success … is you!

Consult Mentors

I believe that older and/or more successful people should (morally) encourage and help younger and/or less successful people but they do not always do so. Therefore, please seek out mentors, advisers and coaches but remain vigilant as to their motives, realities and angles. I personally try to help youngsters or any people struggling with an idea as much as I can. I don’t like the way some older people (journalists, pundits, those active on social media, etc) who should know better have rounded on Harry and Meghan instead of helping them. H & M have been rather hypocritical and rather too ‘shouty’ yes but, hey, I did that. When I was twenty/thirty-something I used to loose off when somebody else (often older) wronged me, but one learns that loosing off doesn’t help. So can I plead here please, when others do not do the best for themselves then please advise, support and guide them if you can, don’t pile in with vitriol. That’s a puerile way to proceed in my view. The younger/less mature operators may not listen to your wise guidance but at least please try to support them. The more mature members of society should be supporting those who need it not acting like kids themselves.

Try/Do Everything

Finally, it’s surprising how every little jigsaw piece of effort or initiative can form up into a very strong way forward/direction. So, without jumping out of a plane without a parachute (almost certain to fail), I suggest you always follow up/through every little embryonic lead that might take you forward. I have led a very polymathic and eclectic life and career and it has ultimately worked well for me (see here). Even within your chosen field, don’t talk yourself out of trying things and experimenting before you even attempt to follow up on a potential avenue (as many do). I am convinced you will see the benefit. Good luck; I think you probably won’t need it if you follow the guidelines I’ve laid out in my two Riding The Storm articles, but I wish it to you anyway. More soon…

Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


David Paul Jacobs, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

David Jacobs is a life/career coach/mentor and thought leading business analyst/project leader. As director of MaxVal Consultancy Ltd in the UK, he is author of Business Value Maximisation Framework (BVMF®) which arose from his 30-year research and development programme into IT business value/success maximisation designed to raise return on investment (ROI) to levels substantially above the norm. On the back of this and a number of other successful entrepreneurial projects David is authoring, coaching and mentoring in life skills, career progression and effective business management. David has a polymathic 'cv' which includes a parallel background in contemporary performing arts. David's mission is to save others time in learning key lessons he has learnt, and, to entertain!



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