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Mr Rejection

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MR REJECTION: Jiang was shy as a child

From challenging a CEO to a staring contest to trying to get a haircut at a pet store, Jia Jiang, a US-based entrepreneur, has made several outrageous requests in the past 50 days with the sole purpose of getting rejected

Over the course of the past 50 days, Jia Jiang has asked to borrow $100 from a stranger, tried to get a free room at a hotel, tried to challenge a CEO to a staring contest and asked for permission to slide down the firepole at a fire station. On a recent Tuesday, Jiang made another outrageous request - he asked the salesgirl at a drug store whether he could dance to Gangnam style on the store's security camera. Most of his requests had been rejected;this time he got a 'yes'.

Jiang wasn't pleased. He wasn't looking for a yes - he was hoping to be refused. The 31-year-old, who grew up in Beijing but is now based in Austin, Texas, is on a 100-day rejection therapy project. The more he is rejected, the more successful his quirky project will be.
The reason Jiang has embarked on this bizarre task is because he wants to desensitise himself from the emotional pain refusal causes. Its trigger was the promise of an investment for a start-up Jiang was planning which came close to fruition and then fell through. Scarred badly by the incident, he was discussing it on a networking website for entrepreneurs when somebody suggested rejection therapy.

As part of the therapy, Jiang has been filming himself getting rejected by various people regularly since November 15. He has put the videos up in public domain - on a blog called Entresting. com. The clips are accompanied by essays that provide a background to them. The earlier videos show him to be shy and embarrassed, but Jiang grows more confident over time. In different episodes, he asks people if they could dryclean his car tyres, have his hair trimmed at a pet store or make an announcement over the public address system of an aeroplane.

One of the more endearing episodes shows Jiang turn up at a Krispy Kreme store and demand Olympic-ring shaped doughnuts. Not only does the salesgirl make them, she also pays for them herself because she believes they aren't good enough. The incident left a lasting impression on Jiang. "It's only my third day and I have already failed, but I did so with such amazement and happiness. I am officially a fan of Jackie at Krispy Kreme, " he wrote on his blog.

In another video, Jiang goes to an outlet of the American wholesaler, Costco, and asks to make an announcement over the intercom. The manager refuses, but offers Jiang a free meal at the store. He returns with a lesson: rejection is easier to swallow when it is sweetened with an alternative.

It looks simple enough in the videos, but Jiang says framing the questions is harder than it seems. "I have some red lines that are non-negotiable - no making requests that are physically impossible to do, no asking people to do unethical things. I try and make the requests creative - they should be crazy, but at the same time, something that people would be able to do for you if they wanted to. " Often, he seeks ideas for requests on his blog.

Jiang comes from a family of teachers and his father, mother and grandmother taught in Beijing schools. Jiang's grandfather was a college professor and his uncle, a college dean. As a child, Jiang too wanted to teach but a talk by Bill Gates at Peking University that he attended when he was 14 changed his thinking. He left for the United States at 16, studied software and worked as a programmer and games developer. This was a period when he was trying to figure out what it was he really wanted to do. "I realised I was more interested in the business aspect than the technical aspect, " he says. He followed it up with an MBA course at Duke University and went on to work for Dell.

Two-and-a-half years into his job, he decided to start out on his own. "I had a good job, a car, a dog, a wife who I had met in college. I was living the American Dream. But I realised that I was content but not satisfied. " Last July, he quit Dell started out as an entrepreneur. He founded Hooplus. com, a website based on the idea that commitments have a higher chance of being fulfilled when they are converted into social promises and written out on email. The big no came when he was trying to raise funds for this website, which in turn led to rejection therapy.

The therapy process has been a steep learning curve. For one thing, it has taught Jiang the power of humour. "If you can use humour, it can really get you far in life, " Jiang says. He has also learnt to persist and negotiate when he is rejected the first time. "People are more amenable when you make a second request and the chances of rejection are a lot less, " he says.

As a child, Jiang recalls himself as being easygoing and friendly when he was surrounded by familiar faces, but shy and reticent in front of strangers. When he was about nine or ten years old, he once gave up his seat on a bus to a 20-year-old who simply demanded it of him. "He was not disabled or disadvantaged in any way. After I gave up my seat, I kept thinking how I could be so foolish. "

He is a now a far cry from that quiet and diffident kid who could be easily pushed around. Charming, witty and fun, it is difficult not to like this self-effacing but assertive Chinese-American who speaks with an endearing accent. It is possibly one reason why there have been more 'yeses' to his outlandish requests in recent times - at last count, his rejections fell to a worrying low of 62 per cent.

The past 50 days has taught Jiang that rejection is not necessarily a bad thing. "Even the President of United States was rejected by half the nation, " he says. "The more successful you are, the more likely you are to be rejected. For me, the biggest learning has been that rejection is good. You have to have the right approach and learn the right lessons. "

amardeep. banerjee@timesmail. com

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