Knowing what “yes” looks like

Creating something meaningfully new, taking a risk, putting yourself out there to face the critics, skeptics and trolls is never easy. As Seth reminds us, our lizard brains are wired to keep us stuck.

But what if you sit across the table from the person who has walked through their fear and is now asking your permission to innovate? What if you are faced with the decision to green-light a risky project that is being advocated by a passionate team?

Having been the chief strategy and growth officer at two Fortune 500 companies I’ve led dozens of projects, big and small, and across a spectrum of boldness, designed to spur innovation and accelerate growth. More often than not, when our team has gone to the CEO or the Board asking for support to move ahead, we were told “no.” Sometimes we understood why we were declined and walked away with clear feedback and a road-map to move forward. Other times the feedback could be summed up by either “this is not the right time” or “we’ll know a great idea when we see it.”

Just because you have risen to a senior leadership position doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any easier to walk through your fear. Frankly it’s a hell of a lot easier to say “no” to a new venture than to risk being wrong or looking foolish.

As leaders we can do better than defaulting to the least risky position, to letting our lizard brain win. If we are going to say “no” we need to know what a “yes” looks like. And we need to be able to communicate that to those we lead.

And when they come back having addressed our concerns and resolved our doubts, than we owe them that “yes.”


Author: stevenpdennis

Steven Dennis is a trusted advisor and thought-leader on customer-centric strategic growth and innovation. As President of SageBerry Consulting, he applies his C-level executive experience to drive growth and marketing strategy for multi-channel retail, e-commerce and luxury industry clients. He shares his ideas and wisdom regularly in the press, as an industry speaker and through his popular blog "Zen and the Art & Science of Customer-Centricity"( Prior to founding SageBerry, Steven was Senior Vice President of Strategy, Business Development and Marketing for the Neiman Marcus Group. As a member of the Executive Committee he drove the company's major growth initiatives, multi-channel marketing programs and customer insight agenda. Before joining Neiman Marcus, Steven held leadership positions with Sears, including Acting Chief Strategy Officer, Lands' End acquisition integration team leader, Vice President-Multichannel Integration and General Manager-Commercial Sales. Earlier in his career he was with NutraSweet and the global management strategy consulting firm, Booz & Co. Steven received his MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BA from Tufts University. In addition to his consulting work, Steven is an executive-in-residence at the JC Penney Center for Retail Excellence at SMU’s Cox School of Business, President of the DFW Retail Executives Association and serves on the Advisory Boards of Invodo Inc. and Nectar Online Media. He is also active in the social innovation and education reform arena as a Partner and member of the Board of Directors of Dallas Social Venture Partners. He is currently co-leader of DSVP's investment and engagement with SMU's Center on Communities and Education "School Zone" initiative in West Dallas.

3 thoughts on “Knowing what “yes” looks like”

  1. Good post. As a “white hair” myself, I am finding it easier to be creative myself because I am no longer fearful of failure, but your post is a reminder to me to be ever diligent to pay attention to the creative ideas of others.


  2. Innovation is about matching mental models with reality.
    Reality is always right, but models need often be refined. This is done by trial and error.
    The bold learns quickly and corrects swiftly, the “lizard” avoids the process altogether.


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