Johnny Mercer Had the Right Idea: Accentuate the Positive

Johnny Mercer hit on something when he wrote “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative” for the classic tune. But the lyrics might be easier sung than done.

With a bitterly divided Congress, constant reminders of differences between red and blue states and never-ending attacks on our country’s leaders, negativity has become the norm in the United States. And while it is endemic to politics, negativity can also permeate the business world.

Entrepreneurs, particularly those pioneering a new product or service, are perhaps most susceptible to negative comments from family, friends, even peers. Their disparaging comments about your ideas can range from shooting them down to mocking them and citing statistics about how slim your chances are of succeeding.

Listen to the Voices of Experience

Luckily there are others out there who have been through the experience of building a business and their words can inspire confidence. I consider myself among this group. Accentuating the positive is one of the guiding principles of this website as I try to share information that will assist others with personal growth as well as business development. If I had listened to naysayers, I might never have founded my company Breakaway Solutions.

I can relate to the words of Steve Chou, founder of the website My Wife Quit Her Job.

“Anytime you start your own business or take any risks for that matter, you’ll inevitably meet people who will doubt you. These people often mean well, but their negative comments can be a devastating blow to your self-esteem and your entrepreneurial spirit if you are not careful.

“The most important thing when dealing with the doubters is to take everything they say with a grain of salt. There are too many variables for anyone to accurately predict the success or failure probability of your small business.”

Successful Failures

Budding entrepreneurs surrounded by detractors might also take comfort in a rather long list of captains of industry who were not deterred by negativity, even after some of their initial enterprises or concepts failed. Michael Michalko, author of the best sellers “Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques,” ThinkPak: A Brainstorming Card Deck” and Cracking Creativity: The Secrets Of Creative Genius,” offered such a list last year on The Creativity Post.


■ A newspaper editor once fired Walt Disney because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

■ The famous “secret recipe” that eventually made Harland David Sanders a household name as Colonel Sanders of KFC was rejected more than 1,000 times before a restaurant accepted it.

■ A Harvard dropout, Bill Gates failed with his first business Traf-O-Data before he founded Microsoft.

■ Henry Ford was discouraged from getting into the automobile business because, people said, he lacked the required capital and the expertise.

■ An early employer rejected F. W. Woolworth’s ideas for marketing dry goods—the same ideas that later made Woolworth one of the most successful retailers in the United States.

■ Akio Morita was ridiculed for his first product, a rice cooker that burned more than it cooked rice. Morita persevered with his company, Sony, which went on to become the multibillion-dollar company it is today.


Turn a Negative Into a Positive

The best thing an entrepreneur can do is learn how to deal with negativity in a positive way. Some would say to just ignore critics so as not to be discouraged. Author Peter Bregman, who wrote “18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction and Get the Right Things Done” offered a very interesting take on how to respond to negativity in a blog post he created last year for Harvard Business Review. Bregman suggests responding negatively and positively with detractors rather than against them. He explained his strategy in three easy steps:

1. Understand how they feel and validate it. This might be hard because it could feel like you’re reinforcing their negative feelings. But you’re not. You’re not agreeing with them or justifying their negativity. You’re simply showing them that you understand how they feel.

2. Find a place to agree with them. You don’t have to agree with everything they’ve said, but, if you can, agree with some of what they’re feeling. If you share some of their frustrations, let them know which.

3. Find out what they are positive about and reinforce it. This doesn’t mean trying to convince them to be positive. It means giving attention to whatever positive feelings they do show—and chances are they will have shown some because it’s unusual to find people who are purely negative.

Perhaps the bottom line, however, is to persevere no matter what sort of obstacles you encounter. Who knows, you might just become the next Bill Gates.

Written by

John Romano is an entrepreneur, marketing strategist, Internet consultant, blogger and an expert in the technical, conceptual, and content development of online startups. He is the founder of several ecommerce sites and has helped multiple companies launch successful online businesses.


  1. Samantha

    Johnny Mercer Had the Right Idea: Accentuate the Positive

    Empathy, Empathy, and empathy. “Understand how they feel and validate it” … very wise words. Often not easy, often painful – painful because it means realizing your idea might need tweaking. But come to terms with your own lack of perfection (none of us are perfect after all) buck up and listen. Even if you determine that their position isn’t worthy in your mind – you’ll get a lot more respect if give it an honest listen. Dealing with the positive is easy – why do you think CEOs surround themselves with “yes” men? How a (wo)man deals with the negative, that’s the true measure. By the way – thanks John for the great article.

  2. Bill

    Johnny Mercer Had the Right Idea: Accentuate the Positive

    Indeed Covey swayed the corporate world with the wise and insightful words in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” however I’m more a pratical hard-science kind of person when it comes to business advice.
    And that is why I enjoyed the details from Entrepreneur magazine that you highlighted. Seems their seven habits can be boiled down to: plan, organize, ask the right people the right questions, delegate, monitor, measure, & inform.
    I think a business that follows these seven practical morsels of advice is well on their way to success. But as always, the devil is in the details – follow through is key.

  3. Brock

    Johnny Mercer Had the Right Idea: Accentuate the Positive

    “The best thing an entrepreneur can do is learn how to deal with negativity in a positive way.” Wise words for both the beginner and seasoned business leader and all should take heed of these words. It’s true that hidden in the negativity might be worthwhile constructive criticism but business leaders would do well to grow thick skin because that constructive criticism is sometimes hidden in poor delivery. As Betty Davis once famously said, “hang on it’s going to be a bumpy ride.” And about finding a place to agree – gosh how I wish more people would heed your words here – from Washington DC to the corner drug store.

  4. Nattie

    Johnny Mercer Had the Right Idea: Accentuate the Positive

    Another point to make about rejection is that it means you’re still in there – you are still in the game. Sure, one could see a rejection as a strike out – and perhaps it is. But unless you’re 102 years old it’s not the bottom of the ninth. See, talk is cheap. If you’re not getting rejected every once and a while – you’re not doing anything. You’re just sitting around talking. But rejection, my friend, means you are a DOER. A rejection means you worked your bottom off and then took the leap … that is something to be celebrated!

  5. Jay

    Johnny Mercer Had the Right Idea: Accentuate the Positive

    Rejection?!?! Bring it on! Entrepreneurs are fighters. If we weren’t, we’d choose some other vocation with friendlier odds. Take the consternation over a rejection and challenge yourself to prove the world wrong. Turn an acute, sincere eye to the issue, assess, and take heed. Is there something that gives you pause? Causes a smidgen of doubt? If there is, chances are this is an area to focus on before trying again. Don’t settle for feeling “ok” about it. Be content only when you feel you have done all you can to ensure success.

  6. efpierce

    Johnny Mercer Had the Right Idea: Accentuate the Positive

    There’s a lot of failure behind some of the biggest success stories, and you’re right, if they can overcome the odds, each and every one of us should be able to also.

  7. Jennifer

    Johnny Mercer Had the Right Idea: Accentuate the Positive

    Finding out what people are positive on and reinforcing it is important. Building and expanding on that is key. Thanks for a great post!

  8. Nastaya

    Johnny Mercer Had the Right Idea: Accentuate the Positive

    I think that perhaps musicians deal with more rejection than just about anybody. Remember how Led Zeppelin got their name? When the concept was pitched – that now classic Zeppelin sound of heavy metal blues rock delivered with the crushing weight of a grand piano – they were told that would go over like a “lead balloon.” Successful musicians, like successful businesses learn from adversity – sometimes even thriving on it. I’d recommend Johnny Cash’s words on this subject: “You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”

  9. Stephanie

    Johnny Mercer Had the Right Idea: Accentuate the Positive

    Great post and you are so right – concentrate on the positive. One more to add to you list: “I think you should seriously consider going back to driving a truck.” – told to Elvis Presley when he auditioned for the Grand ol’ Opry.

  10. Emily D.

    Johnny Mercer Had the Right Idea: Accentuate the Positive

    Excellent advice all the way around in the piece. I like the points about turning negatives into positives.

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