When NO is Not a Negative

If you are an entrepreneur, then almost by definition you probably tend to be a very positive person. You believe in yourself, you believe in your product and ideas and most of all you believe in your ability to persist in your endeavor until it is a success.

As a successful person you are also accustomed to both hearing and saying “yes” and you are also probably somewhat averse to saying “NO.” All admirable qualities indeed.  But with many projects there comes a moment when it is time to see the data for what it is trying to tell you and pull the plug.  As we look at this closely, we will see this is never an easy thing to do, but it is often is the right thing to do.

As an entrepreneur, you have a basic responsibility to be honest with yourself and your investors. No one wants to fail, and no one wants to admit defeat. Categorizing such decisions in terms of winning or losing is likely at the root cause of why so many people and companies continue to throw good money after bad in an attempt to reach the tipping point and have a product become financially successful. And that is always the endgame. Sales upon sales really don’t mean anything if they are not profitable sales.

In today’s culture, it is very common to hear of a great success story of a CEO who stayed the course through thick and thin, who ignored all of his or her critics and charged ahead — and ultimately became successful. While I applaud their efforts and congratulate them on their success, that is not my point. Depending on whose statistics you believe, it is estimated that nine out of 10 new businesses end up failing sometime within the first seven years of existence. That translates to a 90 percent failure rate.  Funny thing, we never seem to hear about all of those companies that failed but rather just the ones that made it.

Any time you are trying to commercialize an idea or product that you were instrumental in developing, it is natural to take ownership of the idea and also to have a strong emotional commitment to its success. While this can certainly help you get through the inevitable challenges you will face, it is much wiser not to become emotionally attached to the project.

One way to achieve this is to take a scientific approach and remind yourself that you have an idea (a hypothesis), and that you are going to run it through a scientific process to either prove the hypothesis (that the idea can in fact be successfully commercialized) or to disprove the hypothesis (to determine beyond any reasonable doubt that the idea cannot be successfully commercialized) or at least not to the point where continued involvement makes sense.

Whenever I am struggling with achieving the results that have been targeted, I like to get a white board as large as possible.  I put as much of my available data on that white board and then literally take a few steps back so I can view everything at once.  When I do this, I am often amazed at what jumps off the board at me. Just by putting the data all in one place and together in some logical format, you will be amazed at key bits of information that will often tell the story that you just weren’t honed in on.

If you take this approach, using all of your business savvy and analytics available to you to both test and monitor your progress, you will succeed either way.  You will either prove the idea is in fact marketable, or you will demonstrate the return on investment simply doesn’t warrant any more of your valuable time and resources. When all of the data and your inner voice are trying to tell you that it just doesn’t make sense to keep going down the path with this project, don’t let a false notion that this is about you derail you from taking the most appropriate action.

By taking this approach, you can effectively keep things in perspective. By reading the data for what it is, for analyzing all circumstances and variables and for making the tough decision, you are actually identifying yourself as a true professional who makes the tough decisions when it is obvious that is the right thing to do. It will not serve you well to spend another year or two on a project that is destined to fail.  That time will be much better spent applying your skills to a project with a greater probability of success.

Early on in my first role as president of a start-up company, I was sharing some of my struggles with one of my mentors who herself had been very successful at managing companies to successful exits.  In the middle of our conversation she stopped me with a very direct statement. She simply said, “Gary, you must realize that this is not about you.” Truer words were never spoken and I immediately realized that she was right.  It wasn’t about me, it was about me making the best and most appropriate decision given all of the data available to me.

If you are interested in learning more about this subject, this link may be helpful.


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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.