The history of the world is the history of a few men who had faith in themselves. That faith calls the divinity within. You can do anything. You fail only when you do not strive sufficiently to manifest infinite power. As soon as a man or a nation loses faith, death comes.
In 2006, Stefani Germanotti had hit a turning point in her career. She had quit a rigorous musical theatre program at an elite college to focus on her musical passion and, after a year of hard work and little income, had signed a deal with Def Jam records. But this promise wouldn’t last. Just three months after signing, Def Jam changed its mind about Stefani’s unusual style and released her from her contract.
Rejected, Stefani went back the drawing board, working in clubs and experimenting with new performers and new influences. These experiments produced a new sound that was drawing positive attention from critics and fans. Within a year, there was another offer; this one from Interscope Records. Nearly two years after her initial rejection, Stefani was finally able to introduce her sound and her self to the world – as Lady Gaga.
Rejection happens and, when it does, how we respond to it matters. Lady Gaga responded by experimenting with new influences and making her sound more unique. Just as Gaga experienced, recent research suggests that when most of us experience rejection, it can actually enhance our creativity, depending on how we respond to it.
In a series of experiments, researchers led by Sharon Kim of Johns Hopkins University sought to examine the impact of rejection on individuals’ creative output. In the first experiment, participants were given a series of personality questions and told they would be considered for participation in several group exercises in the future. Rejection happens and, when it does, how we respond to it matters.
When the participants returned to the laboratory a week later, some of them were asked to complete a few tasks before joining their group (inclusion), others were told that the none of the groups had chosen them and they would need to complete their tasks independently (rejection).
The tasks in the experiment were a series of Rapid Associative Tests, a common measurement of divergent thinking. A Rapid Associative Tests question works by presenting three seemingly unrelated words like fish, mine, and rush and asking participants to think of a single word that can be added to all three to create a meaningful term, for example, gold; goldfish, gold mine, gold rush. The Rapid Associative Tests question is a useful measurement because it requires both elements of creative thinking, novelty and usefulness.
When they calculated the results, the researchers found that "rejected" participants significantly outperformed those that were included in a group. But that wasn’t all the researchers found. Embedded in the personality questions was a measurement of how individualistic or collective participants viewed themselves; independent or dependent self-concept. Those who had test results that labeled them as independent showed even greater gains in creativity after feeling rejection. Consider the difference between those who respond to rejection by sulking versus those who respond by rolling up their sleeves and thinking "I’ll show them."
Those who had test results that labeled them as independent showed even greater gains in creativity after feeling rejection. The researchers wanted to know if this independent self-concept could be manipulated. Could people be put into a mindset that dealt with rejection in a way that enhanced their creative output? To answer this, they re-ran their experiment with a slight tweak. Instead of embedding the self-concept measurement in their personality questions and examining correlations afterward, participants’ self concept was altered or "primed" through a simple activity designed to focus participants either on themselves or on how they fit into a larger group. Remarkably, even a task as small as circling the singular "I" or plural "we" pronouns in a story was enough to alter their self-concept and affect their response to rejection.
As they expected, participants primed with an independent self-concept solved significantly more Rapid Associative Tests problems following rejection than those primed to think collectively. The results were conclusive. Rejection breeds creativity, especially for those who consider themselves highly independent. In final a follow-up study, the researchers found the same trend using a different measurement of creativity. Taken together, these experiments hold interesting implications for responding to rejection. While it is never a comfortable experience, the feelings of rejection can actually help us access our more creative selves. Free from the expectations of group norms, we can push the limits of novelty. Moreover, we can enhance that ability by changing the way we respond to rejection. Instead of dwelling too much on the pain of being turned down or turned aside, consider the freedom you now have to explore new possibilities and less mainstream options. Feelings of rejection can actually help us access our more creative selves.
Being rejected is often a statement that you or your ideas are too far from the current mainstream to be considered safe or comfortable. This could actually be a good thing. You’re ahead of your time. While the group or client may not believe they need you right away, the world probably does. If you’re too far from the mainstream, you could be the one pushing progress forward.
Consider how Lady Gaga’s work was too unique for Def Jam, but was an international hit just two years later with Interscope. Decades before Gaga, George Bernard Shaw, the Nobel Prize winning writer, weighed in on the same phenomenon, saying "The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
Why do odd images suddenly pop into your head for no reason?
You’re walking down the street, just like any other day, when suddenly a memory pops into your head from years ago. It’s about a person you haven’t thought of for years. Just for a moment you’re transported back to a time and place you thought was long forgotten. In a flash, though, the memory has vanished as quickly as it appeared. This experience has been dubbed a ‘mind-pop’ and sometimes it is prompted by nothing your conscious mind is aware of. There is, perhaps, an even weirder type of ‘mind-pop’. This is when all you get is a word or an image which seems to have no connection to anything at all. Like suddenly thinking of the word ‘orange’ or getting the image of a cheese grater. They seem weirder because they feel unconnected to any past experience, place or person—a thought without any autobiographical context.
Not everyone has these experiences, but many do. When psychologists have recorded these involuntary memories, they find that, on average, people have about one a day. They are most likely to occur during routine, habitual activities, like walking down the street, brushing your teeth or getting dressed. They are also more likely to come when your attention is roaming and diffused. Some of these mind-pops can even be traced back to their causes. Here is one psychologist describing some mental detective work "…while throwing a used bag in a dust bin the word “Acapulco” popped up and since she had no idea what it was and where she might have come across the word, she turned to a member of family for help. To her surprise, it was pointed out to her that Acapulco was mentioned on the TV news some 45 minutes ago. This ability to trace a mind-pop back to its source wasn’t an isolated case. When they surveyed people, Kvavilashvili and Mandler found that the words and images that seemed to pop up randomly didn’t actually come from nowhere.
Sometimes it was an associative mind-pop, like being reminded about Christmas and later having the words ‘Jingle Bells’ pop into your head. It could be a sound-a-like, for example having the image of a sandy beach appear after you see a banana (Bahamas sounds like bananas). The fact that many mind-pops could not be traced back to their source is probably the result of how much of our processing is carried out unconsciously. The fascinating thing was that many of these mind-pops occurred weeks or months after exposure to the original trigger. This suggests that these words, images and ideas can lie in wait for a considerable period. Some even think that experiencing mind-pops could be associated with creativity as these apparently random associations can help to solve creative problems.
Mind-pops are another hint that we are recording more information than we know. Fortunately, our minds mostly do a good job of suppressing random thoughts and images, as they can be extremely distracting. So next time you have a mind-pop, remember that, however weird, it has probably been triggered by something you’ve seen, heard or thought about recently, even if you can’t remember what. Of course, why we get these particular ones and not others is still a mystery.
The linear, one-at-a-time character of speech and thought is particularly noticeable in all languages using alphabets, representing experience in long strings of letters. It is not easy to say why we must communicate with others (speak) and with ourselves (think) by this one-at-a-time method. Life itself does not proceed in this cumbersome, linear fashion, and our own organisms proceed in this cumbersome, linear fashion, and our own organisms could hardly live for a moment if they had to control themselves by taking thought of every breath, every beat of the heart, and every neural impulse. If we are to find some explanation for this characteristic of thought, the sense of sight offers a suggestive analogy. For we have two types of vision–central and peripheral, not unlike the spotlight and the floodlight. Central vision is used for accurate work like reading, in which our eyes are focused on one small area after another like spotlights. Peripheral vision is less conscious, less bright than the intense ray of the spotlight. We use it for seeing at night, and for taking “subconscious” notice of objects and movements not in the direct line of central vision. Unlike the spotlight, it can take in very many things at a time.
There is, then, an analogy and perhaps more than mere analogy between central vision and conscious, one-at-a-time thinking, and between peripheral vision and the rather mysterious process which enables us to regulate the incredible complexity of our bodies without thinking at all. It should be noted, further, that we call our bodies complex as a result of trying to understand them in terms of linear thought, of words and concepts. But the complexity is not so much in our bodies as in the task of trying to understand them by this means of thinking. It is like trying to make out the features of a large room with no other light than a single bright ray. It is as complicated as trying to drink water with a fork instead of a cup. In this respect, the Chinese written language has a slight advantage over our own, and is perhaps symptomatic of a different way of thinking. It is still linear, still a series of abstractions taken in one at a time. But its written signs are a little closer to life than spelled words because they are essentially pictures, and, as a Chinese proverb puts it, “one showing is worth a hundred sayings.” Compare, for example, the ease of showing someone how to tie a complex knot with the difficulty of telling him how to do it in words alone.
The general tendency of the Western mind is to feel that they do not really understand what they cannot represent, what they cannot communicate by linear signs: by thinking. It is like the “wallflower” who cannot learn a dance unless someone draws him a diagram of the steps, who cannot “get it by the feel.” For some reason, Western mind do not trust and do not fully use the “peripheral vision” of their minds. They learn music, for example, by restricting the whole range of tone and rhythm to a notation of fixed tonal and rhythmic intervals; a notation which is incapable of representing Oriental music. But the Oriental musician has a rough notation which he uses only as a reminder of a melody. He learns music, not by reading notes, but by listening to the performance of a teacher, getting the “feel” of it, and copying him and this enables him to acquire rhythmic and tonal sophistications matched only by those Western jazz artists who use the same approach.
This is not to suggest that Westerners simply do not use the “peripheral mind.” Being human, they use it all the time, and every artist, every workman, every athlete calls into play some special development of its powers; but it is not academically and philosophically respectable. They have hardly begun to realize its possibilities, and it seldom, if ever, occurs to them that one of its most important uses is for that “knowledge of reality” which they try to attain by the cumbersome calculations of theology, metaphysics, and logical inference.
When we turn to ancient Chinese society, we find two philosophical traditions playing complementary parts: Confucianism and Taoism. Generally speaking, the former concerns itself with the linguistic, ethical, legal, and ritual conventions which provide the society with its system of communication. Confucianism, in other words, preoccupies itself with conventional knowledge, and under its auspices children are brought up so that their originally wayward and whimsical natures are made to fit the Procrustean bed of the social order. The individual defines himself and his place in society in terms of the Confucian formulae. Taoism, on the other hand, is generally a pursuit of older men, and especially of men who are retiring from active life in the community. Their retirement from society is a kind of outward symbol of an inward liberation from the bounds of conventional patterns of thought and conduct. For Taoism concerns itself with unconventional knowledge, with the understanding of life directly, instead of in the abstract, linear terms of representational thinking. Confucianism presides, then, over the socially necessary task of forcing the original spontaneity of life into the rigid rules of convention; a task which involves not only conflict and pain, but also the loss of that peculiar naturalness and un-self-consciousness for which little children are so much loved, and which is sometimes regained by saints and sages. The function of Taoism is to undo the inevitable damage of this discipline, and not only to restore but also to develop the original spontaneity, which is termed tzu-jan b or “self-so-ness.” For the spontaneity of a child is still childish, like everything else about him. His education fosters his rigidity but not his spontaneity. In certain natures, the conflict between social convention and repressed spontaneity is so violent that it manifests itself in crime, insanity, and neurosis, which are the prices they pay for the otherwise undoubted benefits of order.
Taoism must on no account be understood as a revolution against convention, although it has sometimes been used as a pretext for revolution. Taoism is a way of liberation, which never comes by means of revolution, since it is notorious that most revolutions establish worse tyrannies than they destroy. To be free from convention is not to spurn it but not to be deceived by it. It is to be able to use it as an instrument instead of being used by it. The West has no recognized institution corresponding to Taoism because the Hebrew-Christian spiritual tradition identifies the Absolute–God–with the moral and logical order of convention. This might almost be called a major cultural catastrophe, because it weights the social order with excessive authority, inviting just those revolutions against religion and tradition which have been so characteristic of Western history. It is one thing to feel oneself in conflict with socially sanctioned conventions, but quite another to feel at odds with the very root and ground of life, with the Absolute itself. The latter feeling nurtures a sense of guilt so preposterous that it must issue either in denying one’s own nature or in rejecting God. Because the first of these alternatives is ultimately impossible; like chewing off one’s own teeth–the second becomes inevitable, where such palliatives as the confessional are no longer effective. As is the nature of revolutions, the revolution against God gives place to the worse tyranny of the absolutist state; worse because it cannot even forgive, and because it recognizes nothing outside the powers of its jurisdiction. For while the latter was theoretically true of God, his earthly representative the Church was always prepared to admit that though the laws of God were immutable, no one could presume to name the limits of his mercy. When the throne of the Absolute is left vacant, the relative usurps it and commits the real idolatry, the real indignity against God; the absolutizing of a concept, a conventional abstraction. But it is unlikely that the throne would have become vacant if, in a sense, it had not been so already if the Western tradition had had some way of apprehending the Absolute directly, outside the terms of the conventional order.