I’ve been thinking about innovation a lot recently, and this entry at LifeHacker and at Open Loops about saying yes to more got me thinking
about the No Instinct. If you want to know what the No Instinct is, just bring
up a new idea in a meeting and you will see this behavior demonstrated
immediately. Most people can think of several reasons why a new idea might not
work when presented with one and are usually eager to express those reasons. In
addition to it being instinctual and automatic, thinking of why an idea won’t
work can be mildly challenging and produce a satisfying awakening of one’s
thought processes if they’ve laid dormant all day. Therein lies the problem
with the No Instinct. It becomes an exercise and challenge for
executives/engineers/marketers to figure out how they can shoot down an idea in
a meeting. It becomes a mental game, like a crossword. When presenting an idea
to a group of colleagues, the question isn’t whether anyone can think of
reasons why a new idea won’t work, the game in meetings becomes who can think
of the most reasons the quickest and get the “kill shot”.
Consider a meeting where the exact embodiment of the original iPod is proposed for the first time. How many ways can we shoot it down?
- Consumer electronics aren’t white, no one would accept that.
- No one can use or will like that thumb wheel—it’s not intuitive, it’s difficult to use. Stick to what people know and like.
- That metal back will be a fingerprint magnet.
- Earphones with a white cord? Come on (chuckle).
- And this iTunes concept: people don’t buy music online and the record companies will never sell you the rights to make it useful.
Saying “No” is easy, saying “Yes” is hard. Most ideas probably have a germ of value, some probably a plague’s worth, and the challenge is to find the value in new ideas. Figuring out why an idea won’t work is as easy as doing a Word Jumble; figuring out how an idea can be made valuable can be as difficult as doing the Sunday Times Crossword. Going to a meeting and shooting down some ideas may make one think that they’ve done their job, demonstrated their expertise and saved the company money, but figuring out how to turn a germ of an idea into a thing of value for the company is a difficult challenge, unless you use Steve Jobs’ approach described at Noise Between Stations.
I recommend resisting the No Instinct, to try to find the value in every idea. This is particularly difficult for me as the head of a research center since I have to prioritize ideas and determine which ideas to pursue and which to leave behind. Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink speaks to how one might do that, but that’s another blog entry.