Crappy and the fear of rejection

My colleague and I had this observation about companies who are in partner-like relationships (be that a standards organization or an open source project): there tends to be this weird unhealthy dynamic that keeps playing out. Concepts or proposals of one partner are met with allergic reactions from others. If we study the source of reaction very carefully, it comes from the dismay over not being included earlier in the process, rooted in an often-earnest desire to contribute productively and participate in the idea formation. However, the strength of the allergic reaction perpetuates the fear of rejection of the proposing participant. The offered proposal was already a product of the anxious worry: is it good enough to be considered? Have we thought through all the angles? Are our pros and cons beefed up enough? And so the vicious cycle locks in. Partners gravitate toward closed processes, only surfacing things they must, and there are inevitable heated debates. The partnership deteriorates.

We noticed that this fear of rejection has a fractal-like quality. It happens at individual, team, organization, and industry level. For example, back when I still wrote code, a common challenge that I helped junior engineers overcome was the “black hole CL” problem. There’s so much early hesitance to just publish a patch that the engineer finds themselves adding a bit more to the change… and then a bit more… and a week later, they have a massive change that a) can’t land as is, because the codebase has already moved on, and b) who’s going to review that? And when I finally find time to review it, will I be annoyed and irritated? Yup. Notice how much this echoes the partnership dynamic above.

I wonder how much of our failure to connect with others stems from the fear of rejection, from our attachment to the perceived value we’ve created? One trick I have here is something I borrowed from Brené Brown, and it’s super simple. I gently detach “my Self” from “what I made” by adding the word “Crappy” to it and sharing as early as possible. I find that I produce “cappy design docs,” “crappy decks,” and “crappy prototypes.” For example, it took me 10 minutes to write this crappy little piece. Most often, these artifacts are indeed crappy — but they help others understand what I am doing and start contributing. And that’s not crappy at all.

One thought on “Crappy and the fear of rejection”

  1. There’s a lot of wisdom in this “crappy” piece! Thanks for your thoughts. I can see several applications in my context already.

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