Don’t fear ‘The Haters’

Speaking out – or out of turn – once might have seen you burned at the stake. Society these days employs less brutal tactics to silence those whose views or behaviours threaten the norm. Even in the presumably civilised circles of business and academe, radical ideas evoke fear and derision, as innovation author and adviser, Nilofer Merchant, recently learned firsthand. While publicly exploring ideas around business models in the new social era, Merchant encountered those she calls ‘The Haters’. “If you had asked me on that Friday whether I could handle having 12-plus people say that I wasn’t Harvard Business Review-material, that I was an empress without clothing etc, I’m sure I would have been oh-so-cool about it … because in theory that sounds so crazy,” Merchant recounts. “But I gotta admit that the whole Hater thing, and personal attacks, got to me.” As pioneers in many fields learn through bitter experience, it’s not easy being out of step with prevailing thought. “When you have an idea that is new or disrupts, some people won’t find your ideas worthwhile,” she says. “And those people who are threatened based on what it means to their identity will find a way to make it personal.” As Galileo might ask, though, what’s changed? The Italian physicist and mathematician, known as the ‘Father of Science’, spent his latter years under house arrest after being accused of heresy, subjected to an Inquisition and being forced to recant his then-controversial belief that the Earth and planets revolved around a stationary Sun. The modern-day equivalent of the Inquisition may be the market, which is quick to punish – and sometimes force out – those who push agendas outside the corporate comfort zone. For true innovators, that’s the price of doing business. As Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, has said on many occasions, “We are willing to be misunderstood for long periods”. Merchant concedes there has been value in the at-times personal attacks her views have provoked. In any case, soliciting feedback in the cybersphere is part and parcel of the new dialogue, so suit up. “Edgy ideas are not always well-received,” she says, “and we’d better get used to that.”



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