Often, when we need to test an idea, our natural instinct is to gravitate towards a like-minded colleague or friend – someone who would share our vision and bolster our proposition with platitudes and enthusiasm. It is rare that we would seek out the nay-sayers, the ‘pessimist’ of the team or the disenfranchised customer; why would we? They cut through our passionate pitch to question the underlying value of the concept; the customers that wouldn’t even pick up our product from the shelf – how could they possibly add insight, we know better…

“If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”

In the Accelerated Solutions Environment (ASE), we often quote Henry Ford’s famous adage to remind clients that truly innovative thinking happens not through incremental advances on what already exists – but in leaps of the imagination. If we seek only to modify, to tweak or to enhance, then we will – at best – mildly improve our customer’s experience or market share. Instead, we need to challenge ourselves to ask the right questions and identify what our existing products don’t do to seek out the art of the possible. I’d argue our biggest allies in this quest are the people who don’t buy into what you create.

Talking to nay-sayers is not easy: it’s uncomfortable to hear criticism; difficult not to defend. However, if we approach the conversation with curiosity and openness, our critic could become our most valuable friend. Hearing phrases like “it’ll never work because you’ve not considered….”, “I’ve never bought your product simply because it doesn’t…” and “it’s never there when I need it…” provide insights with far more potential for innovation than “I like your product a lot, I’d like it even more in pink…” The harder the conversation, the more creative potential you’re gathering and the greater the potential for imaginative leaps.

Next time we need to sound-out an idea, how about approaching that person who usually takes the wind out of your sails by pointing out what you’ve forgotten. Maybe, just maybe, they could be right…