Does Saying No Hurt Innovation?

February 25, 2009

2035781407_23e1c60febNO. It’s one of the first words we learn, after the occasional “mom”, “dad”, and right in line with “mine”.  It’s a strong word, one that can hurt, offend, and put off.  But does saying no mean that you are not contributing to innovation?

In my mind, the process of innovating in an organization is a mostly positive process.  It takes inspirational leaders, empowered workers, continued discussion, creativity and and constant flow of ideas. Shooting down ideas only hurts the process, because it blocks the way to getting to the right idea.  So, in a sense, when coming up with new strategies, the word “no” may be unnecessary.

But there is another side of innovation.  When companies are struggling to perform at a level of success that they are accustomed to or striving towards, something may be wrong. It may be organizational or administrative, it may be a disconnect between the brand and the consumer, it may be a failing process or product line.  Whatever it is, it takes an innovative focus and strategy to be willing to change something that is not working.  And in that sense, pointing out negatives can be very important.

When an online company is making content too hard to find, saying “our user interface is no good” is important.  When a car company is on the verge of complete failure, saying “we need to get rid of some of these lines” is important.  And when companies are trying to restructure, reorganize, or redevelop certain systems, someone has to have the courage stand up and disagree when necessary.

Not all ideas are good ideas.  Some ideas are too expensive, will take too long, or are just not possible.  Saying the word “no” is a bad way to shoot something down, but we have to be willing to object to things for real innovation to be possible.  If something is not right, say it.  Then we can start the process of fixing it.

Don’t be afraid to disagree.

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