William is a very smart young man who completed a significant neuroscience research project looking at the way young people learn. William’s research was academically sound and he decided that the next step was to institute his methods in a school with real students. William began his program and charged parents large sums of money for their children to participate. Parents at first eagerly paid the money because of William’s academic reputation and competition to get into the program was fierce.
As time passed however, parents began to question William’s methods. He taught the children very differently than the parents had been taught in their own childhoods and the benefits were not immediately apparent.
Rumors started to circulate that William didn’t really know what he was doing outside of a controlled study environment and parents started to talk about pulling their children out of the program.
William responded to these concerns by growing increasingly defensive. He refused to meet with parents who wanted him to explain his methods because he felt that the parents should be deferring to him as the expert. The more resistant William became, the more parents started pulling their children out of the program until his core group of students had dwindled to a fraction of his original number.
The key to this story is that ultimately William’s research was sound and the children who stuck with the program were very successful when they went on to high school and college. The paradigms William began to put in place would eventually form the basis of a new way to look at education but William himself would go down in history as a small footnote instead of a leader on the forefront of change.
William’s problem was not the product he was selling, it was the way he was selling it. Parents didn’t understand his methodology and instead of recognizing this and educating the parents, he dismissed their concerns and decided that their lack of understanding was their problem, not his.
William’s case may be an extreme example but the same situation can play out in workplaces everywhere. When we have invested heavily in a project or an idea, it is natural to respond to criticism and feedback defensively however, in doing so, we may miss an opportunity to improve on our ideas and help them evolve from good to great.