Apple’s iconic founder, Steve Jobs, often quipped that “saying no to a thousand things” allows entrepreneurs to concentrate talent and improve results on just a few projects. He demonstrated this in 1997 when he returned to Apple after a long absence and immediately slashed the number of products from 350 to 10. Within two years, the company was laser-focused on a handful of innovative projects, leading the company from near death to become the most valuable company in the world.
Jobs’ credo and profound effect on Apple is difficult to ignore. Getting caught up in saying “no” to every project and idea, however, is a surefire way of shutting down the creative spigot that drives all great entrepreneurs.
Consider a personal experience I had with a colleague, who pitched an idea for a new product a few years ago. The idea did not fit in with our product plans or our company goals, so I immediately balked at the idea without even giving it a second thought. Knowing me, he asked that I take a little time and allow it percolate.
He said, “You can say ‘no’ — but just not yet.”
After considering this for a second, I realized that I was becoming one of those guys who defaulted to “no” whenever a new idea came across my desk. I was becoming the same person I loathed for their ability to stifle another person’s ambition with that single, negative and indifferent word.
I started to consider why I seemed to default to “no.” For the most part, it was a defense mechanism deriving from one of these reasons:
1. Lack of time. As an entrepreneur, it is difficult to lead your team while managing the countless activities and challenges your company faces. It is easy to put off new ideas because you have too much on your plate or are too preoccupied with other things. For this reason, learn to delegate tasks when possible so that you can focus on growing and developing your business.
2. Lack of resources. Small companies often do not have the capital or talent to take on multiple projects, and indeed starting and trying to run too many will dilute your financial and human resources. That should not, however, be an excuse to turning down every new idea. Every great company should have a pipeline of new ideas that at the very least promotes creative discussions that could lead to something useful and valuable.
3. Fear of failure. More than likely, the simple thought of failing or shifting focus from an existing idea can squash a new idea. Most new ideas are probably not going to work, but that does not necessarily mean that you should turn them down right away. Allow them time to simmer, as they may gestate and evolve into something that is extremely useful for your company.
After I allowed time for my colleague’s idea to simmer, I still thought it was a bad idea. We met later, however, and talked about it. He had derived the idea based on a need in the market, and while it was not the best idea, it evolved into something we could use and implement in our current product line. In the end, he was excited to have his idea considered, and I was happy to have a new product feature that did not require additional development.
It is not necessarily a bad idea to say “no” to more things than “yes,” but allow you and your team time to digest new ideas and refine them through discussion. Even if you decide to forego a new product or service, you will always have the idea in the back of your brain for future reference. More important, it will encourage creativity among your team.
What do you think? Before you say “bad idea,” allow yourself some time to digest this column, then add your feedback in the comments section below.
I published this article originally at Entrepreneur.com in 2014, but I still find it relevant today.