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Why You Dismiss Good Ideas

Posted by Seth Elliott On March - 3 - 2010

Rejected stampI sent an email to a client last week detailing several innovative strategies that one of his competitors is deploying in their go-to-market plan. I had discovered some information suggesting that the competitor was reaping significant benefits from this approach. Naturally, I wanted my client to be fully briefed on this subject, in the hopes that he could use this information to his advantage.

My client, let’s call him Pierre, took the time to respond to me. He spent (what I can only assume is) a great deal of time and energy detailing the significant dangers and errors inherent in his competitor’s strategy. He followed up with a substantive explanation of how his current strategies are “better” and likely to “perform significantly” in comparison in the future.

Needless to say, I was a bit chagrined. Clearly, Pierre was not pleased to receive information and analysis on techniques that he might use to improve his business and profitability. Instead, his immediate response was to devote a great deal of intellectual resources to attacking the information and defending his own position.

I should mention that, in general, Pierre is neither incompetent nor ineffectual. Indeed, he has built a successful business through prodigious work and native intelligence. Nonetheless, his reaction here was clearly counter-productive.

Pierre is not alone in reacting in this fashion. Many of us instinctively resist new ideas – even if we are active innovators in other areas. Why do we respond this way when it is so clearly contrary to achieving success?


Sometimes, we hesitate to accept new ideas because we don’t trust their source. This may have been the case with Pierre. I had heard from him in the past that he thought the competitor in question had poor management and was untrustworthy. In fact, on one occasion he had elected to avoid a potential joint venture discussion with them.

Nonetheless, dismissing ideas because you question the source is a foolish decision. The fact is, great ideas can take root in bad soil. The source of the idea is not, in of itself, a strong enough reason to deny your acceptance.

Of course, it’s perfectly legitimate to question the source and examine the concept with an objective eye. Break down the idea into its constituent parts, so you are working from the ground up. Define and analyze the idea with the perspective that you want to derive benefit. With this mindset, you should be able to separate the dross – leaving you with the idea components that a are likely to be most effective for you, regardless of the original source.

Too Much To Handle

Sometimes we belittle new concepts when we are overwhelemed with other work. In these circumstances, we don’t want to face the fact that the idea may force us to add even more to our already overly full plate.

It’s an understandable response in today’s overcharged business environment – but it’s quite perilous to allow this as a regular response pattern. It’s likely that you’re going to be overwhelmed frequently in your business. If you allow this habit to develop, you’ll probably regularly reject ideas that could prove to be incredibly valuable to you.

If you find yourself falling into this trap, what’s the solution? Try making a plan for dealing with new ideas. Develop the mindset that every idea is potentially useful. This should allow you to be pleased at hearing and receiving new concepts, without requiring an immediate reaction.

Whenever a new idea presents itself, gather the information and place it in your “idea” file. Each week, schedule specific time to review these ideas and perform the necessary evaluation.

By systematizing this process you take control, which should help alleviate any feelings of panic that arise when new ideas are presented. This plan has the added benefit of giving you a more considered approach to analyzing new concepts, hopefully resulting in a more effective review process.

I Don’t Get It

Many times, we find ourselves dismissing ideas simply because we don’t fully understand them. Wrapping our heads around innovative concepts can be difficult, and rejection is sometimes the easiest course of action.

Often, particularly high technology fields, innovations are complex. Even when it’s not a product development, it can be difficult to fully comprehend the nuances of new business approaches.

Not understanding an idea is, perhaps, the most justifiable reason for rejecting it. However, be careful about dismissing too soon. If you don’t understand a business concept, approach or innovation, take that as a signal. Spend the time examining it, using outside consultants if necessary, in order to make your final decision.

Pierre, of course, understood the ideas in question. Indeed, he spent the time dissecting them and explaining why they were “bad.” This leads to the final, perhaps most pernicious reason, for rejecting innovation.

Not Invented Here

Ego, pure and simple, is a major reason why many potentially great ideas are rejected. In Pierre’s case, there was an inherent cognitive conflict. He simply couldn’t believe that someone who he disrespected (particularly to such a degree) could possibly come up with profitable innovations that were “better” than his own.

In this example, Pierre has a mild case of NIH. Many organizations have almost institutionalized this mindset. The perspective, in those instances, is simply that nobody could possibly innovate/market/create/etc. better, so an entire input for innovation (external sourcing) is closed off. This tends to be most acute in technology focused enterprises. If you think on it, that seems counterintuitive. After all, where would the history of scientific advancement be if each scientist refused to collaborate or accept ideas from the community at large?

The solution is similar to the one offered earlier for trust issues (NIH is actually the issue of trust run amok). Every idea/concept/innovation should be gathered in by the enterprise. At regular intervals, these should be unearthed and examined, with an eye to mining the ideas for nuggets that can be used by the business. After all, if your organization is so smart and great at innovating, no doubt it can find a way to apply new ideas from elsewhere in an even smarter fashion within the enterprise.

Business, and life itself, is filled with potentiality. Opportunities present themselves regularly – chances to improve, become more effective, smarter, wealthier and more successful. Of course, not every opportunity marches up and raps you on the head to get your attention. It’s your job to identify potential inflection points and exploit them. If you’re actively screening out new ideas, your chances of succeeding and achieving your goals are compromised.

Have you used any of these strategies to more effectively review new ideas? What other approaches have you found to be successful?

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About the Author

I have spent the last 15 years advising entrepreneurs on starting and growing their businesses, as well as assisting in financing those growth efforts. I have also been an entrepreneur on several occasions myself. By writing this blog, I hope to provide actionable advice on how to achieve your goals and become more successful.
  • Jose Li

    Unfortunately the 'not invented here' syndrome is very common in Corporate America. Maybe pride, maybe fear of superiors to question why 'new' ideas come from outside and not generated internally, or others. Often times a response of 'very interesting, but we have so many things on our plate now'. Good post.

  • Jose Li

    Unfortunately the 'not invented here' syndrome is very common in Corporate America. Maybe pride, maybe fear of superiors to question why 'new' ideas come from outside and not generated internally, or others. Often times a response of 'very interesting, but we have so many things on our plate now'. Good post.