One of my first jobs included the responsibility of acting as the initial screen for aspiring inventors wishing to add their product to our company’s product line. As you would gather in such a situation, I told a lot of people “No.” Most simply didn’t pass the basic framework that I’d set up for what was needed for us to have a successful product launch. And most of those who did found other ways to dissuade me from pursuing.
When I did turn down these queries, there was hardly ever a question asked about my rationale. And, on the off chance that my rationale was read, I was usually congratulated for my thorough refusal of the potential vendor. In one refused case in particular, when it was discovered that the proposed product turned out to be harmful, I was publicly complimented and compensated.
There were a handful of times though that I said, “Yes … this is perfect for our customer base”; or “Yes … we can beat a major competitor to launch with a better product”; or “Yes … this is a little bit different than what we currently do, but it is a wonderful opportunity.”
When that happened, I was excited to propose such a great addition to our product line. The inventor was excited, product tests seemed to go well, marketing figures checked out, and then, usually, someone felt that it was politically harmful, or it was too different, or there wasn’t time to look at it. And then, slowly, any support that the project had would ebb away and finally die.
It’s not about how “Yes” is inherently better than “No.” Sometimes, saying “No” is the best thing to do. But it does take courage is to say, “I know this is against the current way we do things, but we should change.” And I am not saying I was courageous; I had nothing to lose by recommending these changes. But for those in the power to really make decisions (which I find myself more in now than then), that is where you have to be willing to occasionally swim against the corporate cultural and strategic stream. Because, if you don’t, you might find your business slowly ebbing away and eventually dying.