Does Saying No Hurt Innovation?

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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12 Responses to Does Saying No Hurt Innovation?

  1. David says:

    Zach, you make some good points. However, the one thing to keep in my it is ALWAYS easier to say no to something then yes. Just as in real estate there are 10 reasons to say no to a deal (especially in this market) the same can be true for innovation.

    Yes, I agree of course there are bad ideas. You just need to be careful at what stage you say no. I think some ideas need to be nurtured and grown. Shooting it down too early can kill innovation. If an idea is not good it will naturally die on its own. That’s my two cents anyway.

  2. Zach Heller says:

    David, of course by encouraging negative responses in a brainstorm or idea creation atmosphere, you run the risk of shooting down ideas too quickly. And its possible that initially, if you are doing something like this to discover new business strategies, you may just want to throw out ideas without debating them. But at some point in the process, if you do not allow for true debate, positive and negative, you’ll find bad ideas making their way through the system, costing you time and money.

    Innovation for innovation’s sake can hurt a company by taking away valuable resources and using them on new projects that just don’t work. True innovation will come when the one good idea wins out over all the others.

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