Lesson #5: Ignore the Critics

“When you innovate, you've got to be prepared for everyone telling you you're nuts,” says Ellison. Indeed, there has never been a single point in Ellison’s career where one critic or another did not lambast him for his business strategy. But, learning to ignore them was an art Ellison would soon master.

“Sometimes people just throw labels at you and throw criticisms around that are not rational, and they call you names,” says Ellison. “You can't change behavior that you think is right, just because someone is calling you names, and it's not the conventional way of behavior.”

“Most of the time I let it go,” he says. “Sometimes people say things that are so hurtful and so offensive -- or say things that are just patently untrue -- that I feel like I have to defend myself. If someone says something that is factually an error, then I'll defend myself. If it's just calling me a random name, then I forget it.”

Ellison looks to Napoleon as a source of inspiration when it comes to being defiled or ridiculed by others. Claiming he was a man “who definitely needed better PR,” Ellison asserts that despite codifying laws, stopping religious discrimination, and limiting the power of kings and tyrants, Napoleon was vilified in history – history, however, that was written by the very kings that he deposed.

“It’s interesting to read about him for a couple of reasons,” says Ellison. “To see what one man of modest birth can do with his life, and to see how history can distort the truth entirely…It’s illuminating to understand that even history is based on fashion.”

It is for this reason that Ellison has been able to so successfully tune out those who would predict his downfall. Instead, Ellison listens to his gut instinct and trusts in his decisions. “I try to always ask two questions about my personal policies in life,” he says. Are they fair, are they morally correct? And do they work? I try to reason things back to first principles. I try to think about things, and come to conclusions and make my own decisions.”

This is not to say that Ellison is so stubborn that he is unwilling to listen to constructive criticism of any kind. “If anyone has a logical criticism and can explain to me why what I'm doing is wrong, and they can convince me, I'll change,” he says. “If they have good reasons, I'll just alter my behavior. I love it when people point out when I'm wrong, and explain to me why I'm wrong. That's great. I don't want to be wrong. I would love to be right. If I am wrong, I love it when people stop me.”

Ellison understands that it is the person who steps out of the norm that is stepping into the heat and opening themselves up for attack. But, it is the stronger person who is able to bear that heat. “It takes a certain amount of strength not to succumb to fashion,” he says.

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