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Lose a lot

The legendary computer engineer Howard H. Aiken once advised, “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

Successful optimists understand that the beginning of many endeavours involves being told you’re mad, bad and dangerous to know. More practically they know that they will lose. A lot. At least to start with.

Successful optimists see their ‘Bigger than me’ projects (see Principle no 2) as long games with many rounds. I tend to imagine 10 rounds per project. In round 1 they are resigned to the fact that 9 out of 10 people will think they’re naïve, the wrong person for the job or too idealistic. The task in round 1 is not to try and win over everyone, but one out of ten. Round two is almost as bruising. 90% of the world thinks you’re crazy, and the task here is to convince 1 out of 9 that you’re not (although you do now have the help of the brave soul who saw your point in the last round). And so it repeats with round 3, where 80% of those you talk to are against you and you have to reduce that number to 70%. The rounds get progressively easier but it’s worth noting that up until round five you’re losing more often than you’re winning, which can be awfully dispiriting.

In fact, until I began playing longer games I was often completely dispirited, because I confused round one for the entire game, which means you can begin to doubt yourself very quickly. Despite your enthusiasm for an idea, almost everyone in the world thinks you’re nuts and tells you so. Clearly you’ve misjudged things horribly. What on earth were you thinking? Nowadays though, I use the number of rejections as a metric to tell me where I am on a journey and how long it might take. Kicked in the nuts 7 out of 10 times this week? Well done, you’re in round three. So, only two more rounds to go until the world starts to turn your way.

As US trade unionist Nicholas Klein said, “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.”