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When a “Yes” Is Better Than a “No”

“Optimism is a kind of heart stimulant — the digitalis of failure.” – Elbert Hubbard (A Thousand and One Epigrams, 1911)

As a boss, you don’t want people “yes-ing” your ideas when they have legitimate concerns about them. On the other hand, you don’t want people “no-ing” them simply because they see problems.

Hire and promote employees who “can do.” Fire and demote those who can’t. New employees who are smart enough to see problems with projects and bold enough to mention them should be rewarded for their perspicuity — but corrected about their role.

Just the other day, I had what I thought was a very good idea for a new product. “Don’t do anything more with this till you’ve talked to me!” I urged in an e-mail. When I explained my brilliant idea, a very bright young lady recited 22 possible problems it might create.

Somewhere along the line, she had been rewarded for such behavior.

I should have been gentler. Instead, I was blunt. My response to her was one that I recommend you use when you find yourself in a similar circumstance: “I am not, right now, interested in hearing about the possible problems this idea will cause,” I said. “What I want to know is whether you think this idea is good. If you agree that it is good, I’ll leave it to you to implement. And when you do that, I’ll be happy to hear about the problems — but only after you have figured out solutions for them.”

Contrary to popular business mythology, “yes men” are right. There is nothing phony or fatuous or sycophantish in saying “yes” to new ideas or initiatives. It marks you as a positive person. Someone who is willing to take on a challenge. Someone to be relied on.

The next time you encounter a new idea — and this applies equally whether you are in the role of the idea-maker or the idea-taker — do the following:

1. Listen to it with complete sympathy.

2. Understand its business purpose.

3. Ignore, for the moment, all the potential problems you see in it.

4. Consider only whether it can achieve its stated purpose.

5. If you believe it can, say “yes” to it.

6. If you suspect it can’t, ask questions that demonstrate its weakness.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]