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That won't work here!!!

Bad drawing of a stop sign

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said "That won't work here!" while reviewing ideas or technologies as part of an innovation effort. I could have retired early and moved to Paris years ago!

It's easy for people to say "That won't work here" (or it's ugly cousin, "We already tried that") and derail discussion. That's because it is:

  • easier to think of at least a dozen ways that idea could go wrong than explore what would have to go right

  • easier to say no than yes

  • easier to approve funding for something safe than to fight for something with unproven potential

And all too often it leads to safe bets that are unlikely to lead to any meaningful differentiation. Strategy and innovation, at their core, are about differentiation that leads to value. "That won't work here" mindsets prevent the team from being amazing and doing great things. If you want to be successful, you've got to break through these roadblocks.

Don't take this as me saying all (or even most) ideas are great or workable. Because they aren't. What I am saying is have the discussion and really determine why they won't work here. Is it because the idea won't work at all? Or just not here?

If the idea is feasible, here's a tactic to try:

When someone on your team says "That won't work here!" ask them "What would (competitor) be able to do with (idea or technology )?"

That simple question can result in a remarkably different response from your team.

When I used this approach, it was fascinating that an idea that seemingly had no merit and wouldn't work here suddenly became a major threat if it was adopted by our largest rival. There were multiple ways the competitor could use it to capture market share, increase margins and 'pull through' other offerings... all things WE wanted to do.

Try this the next time someone tells you "that won't work here" and let me know how it works.

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