Who Put the ‘No’ in Your Innovation?


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You dreamt up something completely new. It is so cool that people don’t even know they need it yet. But, like their iPad, once they try it, they’ll forget they ever had a life without it.

It was a fit for your line of business, so – with great hopes swelling in your chest – you brought it to your teammate, your manager, or even the Vice President of Innovation, and it got shot down before you even had a chance to explain the vision, or the strategy, or the compelling need it would serve.

You’re a grownup, and you can take rejection. But still, it grinds you. It’s one thing when people give an idea a fair shake, and maybe it doesn’t fly because one or the other decision-makers isn’t ‘in the know,’ but this time it was clear that they were simply ‘in the NO!’

What’s an innovator to do?

First identify the naysayer. Was it one of these usual suspects?

  • Nano Teamer: This is the person who is so into ‘teamwork’ that they spend more time talking about it than doing it. A favorite expression: “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” A frequent tendency: hanging around where things are ‘happening’ and taking credit for results that were actually produced by other people. Motivation: If it will make someone else look good, kill it.
  • Mini Manager: There are managers who are team players, and there are managers who ‘play’ their team. The latter type prefers to be the source of all great ideas and all good will. Anyone else who dares to tread on that turf is regarded with suspicion, or worse, and will be dealt with severely.
  • Inno Vader: Like Inno’s big brother Darth, he (or she) believes that the purpose of decision-making power is to punch the other person’s lights out. It’s ironic that some of the people who have ‘Innovation’ in their job title seem to be preoccupied with controlling innovation rather than facilitating it. It’s a little like the VC or Angel investor who thinks, ‘I have the money. Therefore, I get to decide because I’m smarter than you, entrepreneur!’

Second, consider whether or not the concept is worth pursuing at your present company.

  • Is there someone in the organization who can be trusted help you shape up your plan so it can be re-presented?
  • Is there an ‘open door’ policy further up the food chain? A ‘Department of Last Resort’? Or would running an ‘end-around’ just be a short cut to getting yourself a pink slip?
  • Are there other reasons you’ve been looking elsewhere, and this most recent affront is feeling like ‘the last straw’? Perhaps it even seems that the stars are aligning that way, since recruiters have been calling you day and night with tempting offers.

Finally, make your decision, and follow your path.

  • Is there enough potential commercial value and growth potential to enable you to attract seed capital?
  • Can you build your own prototype during your off hours? Land a space in a business incubator? Get a grant?
  • Are you sure you would not be violating any obligations to your present company? Would a top plaintiff’s attorney agree with you?

If you’re not confident in your ability to make it happen on your own, it’s OK to just ‘let it go.’ But you really should give some thought to finding a more collegial work environment!

Innovation is precious, and often fragile. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself be the one who put the ‘no’ in innovation!

Dr. Janice Presser
Dr. Janice Presser is a behavioral scientist, CEO of The Gabriel Institute, thought leader in talent science, author of six books on teams, and architect of Teamability® , the completely new 'technology of teaming'. Launched in 2012, the technology caps a quarter-century of behavioral science R&D, including nine years of software development. Engineered to identify and organize the foundational elements of team activity and team management, Teamability produces true analytics of team chemistry, and delives practical, repeatable business benefits.


  1. There are lessons here for any enterprise. As mentioned to you, having worked with both innovation supporters and naysayers who are at senior corporate levels, it’s also important, I think, to point out that the executive idea saboteurs invariably feel that they are acting and speaking with the best of intentions. They don’t realize that they are impairing the innovative and collaborative elements of the culture, as well as the motivation and personal reward (of accomplishment), especially among more contributory and original-thinking individual members of staff.

    For employees who are vision formers and vision movers, their frustration and inability to have their voices heard and ideas given sunlight will often lead to seeking greener pastures for pursuit of their concepts – if not within their current employer, than with a new (and possibly competitive) one.

  2. Thanks for saying it so well, Mike. It amazes me how easily leaders lose great people when it’s so simple to keep them. Rule One: Give them a huge, fabulous, vision. Rule Two: Get out of their way and let them get you there.

    So weird that people say (in job postings) that they want creativity, originality, contributors, etc… and then do everything in their power to shut it down.

    The saving grace is that when you do have a truly innovative organization, you never have to wonder where your next great hire will come from. They’re already knocking at the door, and they’re not only bringing you their value, they’re taking it away from your competitors.

  3. When senior executives, who should be both leading and supporting the development of innovative and profitable concepts, decide to pull the plug, employees – especially the vision formers and vision movers – don’t fare well within the resulting vacuum.

  4. Senior management’s fear drives the creation of that vacuum that destroys employees’ ambition, curiosity, and initiative. Nothing puts out the fire of innovation more effectively than fear.

  5. A very well researched article Dr Janice.
    I have been a part of big enterprise & have experienced ideas being shot down. One solution around this would be some sort of platform which increases transparency & visibility of the idea in big organisation. In addition, as you mentioned a small prototype before idea is pitched would help. A platform which helps/teaches ideator to validate the idea to come up with with some sort of proof of concept before pitching it will increase its chance to move ahead in idea funnel.

    follow us on twitter @huvidea


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