Persistence – bringing an idea to life

Many years of running businesses has made me realize that never giving up and doggedly working on a problem often leads to success.

Persistence – bringing an idea to life by Nancy Knowlton

A number of years ago I had an idea for selling our product that I had been thinking about for some time. I had worked it out in my mind over a few weeks and then validated my thinking through conversations with target customers and with some of our resellers who were deeply connected to the market. I thought that I had the idea nailed when I decided to speak to other people within our company. To my surprise, the universal reaction was that the idea was without merit and not something that we should do. I tried on multiple occasions to persuade people, but I just couldn’t change anyone’s mind.

Confronted with rejection

At the time, I was the president of the company, and I should have just been able to wave my arms, speak a few words and my wishes would be someone’s duty to deliver. At least that’s the way that things work in some companies, but not in ours. My husband and I had overtly created a culture where we expected people to stand up to us and not just do things because we wanted them to or because we had an idea. We said that we believed that the best ideas would win and be accepted. Confronted with rejection, though, I didn’t like it, much less accept the verdict, so I continued to mull over the idea and iterate the details.

A smash hit

One day a golden opportunity presented itself – an ideal situation in which to test out the idea in a very contained way. If it failed, the exposure would be very limited. If it succeeded, it would be evident to the people who didn’t accept it, and we would be able to more broadly launch the idea. Very quickly the concept proved that indeed it wasn’t just workable, it was a smash hit with the intended audience just as I thought that it would be. With the results in front of us, everyone agreed that we should launch the idea more broadly. The good thing was that many people got on board quickly and claimed an element of ownership of the idea and its implementation. In our case, there was more than enough credit to go around.

That single idea fueled the success of our business for a good number of years. Even today, former staff wax eloquent about what a great idea it was and how fundamental it was to the growth of the business. Only I really remember that it was an idea that was almost not allowed to live and the difficulty in getting it off the drawing board and into practice.

Never giving up

Through the years I have discovered that I am not alone in this experience. I can point to several instances where technology concepts were initially rejected, and the team or individual kept on working away on the idea until it was finally accepted. One notable example comes to mind of a technology component that developed into a multibillion dollar a year business within a Fortune 500 company simply because the inventor never gave up working on his idea. Ultimately, his persistence paid off and a new division was created to commercialize the idea in a very big way.

This is not to say that having a successful product or concept is only about persistence and continuing to work in the face of rejection or failure. It is far more complicated than that – but staying power, belief and persistence cannot be underestimated. It factors into more situations than one might at first imagine.

For me, hard work and persistence go hand in hand, whether it’s learning a new sport or skill, competing in business or just living. I don’t expect an easy time of things or a free ride. I expect to have to work hard and struggle for success. Confronted with rejection or failure, my first reaction is to think things through and keep up the effort. I am not easily discouraged or dissuaded. Persisting through tough times seems like second nature.

I have learned that new ideas are often labeled unworkable or crazy when they first emerge. It appears to be human nature to reject new concepts rather than embrace them. It has proven to be a good thing to have an idea rejected at the outset instead of having it accepted. Rejection makes me work harder at honing the concept more than smooth sailing ever would. I just accept that rejection will be the most likely first reaction and understand that it is going to be a process to get something new initiated. The takeaway for me? Persistence can overcome indifference and rejection.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.