Rumor has it that KFC’s Colonel Sanders was rejected over 1000 times before he successfully sold the first fried chicken franchise that made him famous. It’s said that Sanders was even laughed at for his starched white shirt and white pants. Today, Kentucky Fried Chicken operates in more than 80 countries and sells more than 1 billion pieces of chicken annually. Who’s laughing now?

More notably, however, why did it take Sanders so long to sell his vision? Why were the individuals audacious enough to laugh at an old man’s attire unable to see the apparent potential in his plan? In reality, there are several characteristics of vision that consistently draw negative attention. If you want to be visionary, you need to understand the dynamic fostered by these characteristics so you can prepare for the criticism your vision will likely attract.


The major characteristics of vision that draw criticism are change and uncertainty:

  • Change – Vision almost always involves a change in the current situation. That change generally equates to discomfort for those heavily invested in the status quo, and loss for those benefitted by it. Thus, the vision itself is often seen as a threat, and the negative emotions it generates in other people are unleashed in the form of criticism. Sometimes the proposed change reflects poorly on those who are content with the current situation, so they do what they can to discourage progress by criticizing the catalyst. Alternatively, the vision may also expose the insecurity of others who have likewise ‘seen’ it, but lacked the courage to act or commit. Again, people in this situation may resort to criticism to justify their own choices.
  • Uncertainty – Visions are also easy to criticize because there is inherently more solid information on the ‘what’ side of the equation than the ‘how.’ The visionary often sees clearly what part of the status quo she wants to change, and the associated burden to do so generally moves her to action before she has the ‘how’ all worked out. As a result, the vision seems unable to withstand otherwise practical questions related to its operationalization. But, as emphasized by Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, “It is important to remember that it is the nature of a vision to have gaps. If there were no gaps, someone else would have already delivered the goods.”

Chances are, if you’re reading this and you’re visionary, you’ve already felt the sting of criticism leveled at plans of your own. Maybe it was a sibling discouraging you from returning to school, a boss disparaging your home-based business, or a friend disclaiming your attempt to quit smoking. In any case, take heart: Every individual who has done anything of significance has faced criticism too. Now that you understand why vision attracts criticism, you’re more well-equipped to prevent it from derailing yours!

“Keep away from small people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that, you, too, can become great.” -Mark Twain

Leave a Comment: What have you learned from the criticism you have faced in the past? What advice would you give to others who are dealing with criticism right now?

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