Overcoming Criticism

When you've got a great idea that you think has the ability to change the world, it is understandable that not everyone will share your zeal. What is always a bit shocking, though, is to see people go out of their way to criticize you and tell you that it your idea could never work.

A good example of this happened with Muhammad Yunus. Wanting to improve the living conditions of those around him in his native Bangladesh, Yunus started the Grameen Bank, a microcredit institution that offers small loans to entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses. Although Grameen has helped many people rise from poverty and Yunus awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the path to success was not easy.

In Banker to the Poor, Yunus details the fierce opposition that he encountered while he was first starting. Commenting on this opposition, he writes,

"Things are never as complicated as they seem. It is only our arrogance that prompts us to find unnecessarily complicated answers to simple problems."

To Yunus, the answer to poverty was simple. Fortunately for millions of people across the world, Yunus perservered through the arrogance of others and Grameen became what it is today.

Inspired by Grameen Bank, Anasazi Foundation, and my passion for travel, I delevoped an idea that I thought could have a similar effect. When I was in college, I begin writing a business plan for a company that would take at-risk teenagers to third world countries to provide service. My idea was that seeing poverty first hand would give the kids a wake up call, and that doing service would help them become better people. In addition, citizens of these countries would benefit by the services provided (building schools, providing better access to water, etc.).

In an effort to promote my idea, I decided to apply for an ORCA grant through BYU. To do so, I had to have a professor to sponsor me. I met with three or four professors from the business school, and each one told me how ridiculous the idea was and how it would never work because of the liability involved.

I was eventually referred to another professor who, I was told, would definitely be interested. I met with him, only to find out that he currently had a group of four graduate students who were writing a business plan for the exact same idea. At first I was thrilled: I thought that he would sponsor me for sure. But he went on to tell me that he saw me as competition and would not help me at all.

Disappointed, I gave up my attempts to find a sponsor and my interest in pursuing the business faded. Two months later, this professor's team took second place at that year's competition for social entrepreneurship, winning thousands of dollars for their business.

While my story isn't the best example of following through to the end, I did learn that criticism is inevitable, even if what you're doing can change the world for good. The key is to realize that not everyone will share your enthusiasm for your ideas. Knowing this ahead of time may spare you disappointment and help you press forward despite your critics.


Holly said...

Great post. That reminds me of a quote that I think of all the time (don't remember where I heard it): Expose yourself to criticism; the finest polish requires an abrasive.

Drew said...

That's a great quote. Thanks for your comments!

Michelle said...

Ah! That story makes me so mad! Especially because your idea was so good and that professor didn't let you be a part of it. I hope someday you can overcome the criticism and show him!!!