Say Yes

The natural instinct when presented with a new idea is to point out all the problems with it. This is easy to do for a few reasons. First, new ideas always have so many problems — otherwise they would just be the way things are done. Second, most ideas have flaws; if you rejected every new idea that came by you’d probably be justified 99.9% of the time, which sounds like pretty good odds. Finally, our brains are wired to confirm the status quo and eliminating anything that might destabilize our world view prevents us from having to process change. It takes significant effort to remain open minded to new ideas.

It isn’t that pointing out the problems is necessarily wrong; at some point they will all need to get fixed if the idea is to go forward. The issue is that pointing out all the problems shouldn’t be the first thing you do. The first thing you should do is work to understand what is right about the idea. Adopt an optimistic outlook and accept the idea, and all of its faults, so you can imagine what the world would be like if it took hold. What problems would it solve? What new opportunities would it create? Then work backward to decide if it is feasible or more valuable than its alternatives.

In addition to the risk of losing out on a good idea, there is a risk to the people involved. Someone presenting a new idea is in a fragile state. They are taking a risk by diverging from what is expected. It is important to harness their passion rather than unintentionally forcing them into the submission of accepting things as they are. Saying no doesn’t just prevent one idea from taking off, it prevents future ideas (possibly better ones) from even coming to light.

Saying Yes has a real cost. You will lose focus and it will take time. But if you do nothing but work on the things you know are important now you will never see disruption coming. And it is always coming. You will end up executing perfectly on the wrong strategy, oblivious to the change happening in the world around you.

This isn’t just important when running a company. It is important to investors who need to think differently from competitors if they hope to have an advantage. It is important to any creative pursuit where successive ‘yes’ answers can lead to a good result even if the initial idea wasn’t great.

Even if we accept that only a tiny fraction of ideas are good, those ideas may be more valuable than the sum of our day to day work. People who find a way to say yes will be the ones who shape innovation and ultimately gain responsibility over time as disruptive ideas take hold.