Can You Prevent Your Idea from being Rejected?

Can You Prevent Your Idea from being Rejected? - Innovation ExcellenceWhen you have come up with great ideas the question is how to make them reality. In practice, I have learned that if they don’t fit your organizational goals, your idea will be rejected and nothing will materialize in the end. It is essential to check this fit as early as possible in your innovation journey.

Fending off  ‘No’

The single biggest obstacle at the start of innovation is one single word: no. As your idea is new, otherwise it’s not innovation, it will get a lot of opposition. Startup partners and financiers will confront you with a lot of doubts. As a corporate innovator it will be your colleagues and managers giving comments like:

  • No, we have always done it this way…
  • No, our customers won’t like that!
  • No, we don’t have time for this…
  • No, it’s not possible…
  • No, it’s too expensive!
  • No, let’s be realistic…
  • No, that’s not logical…
  • No, we need to do more research…
  • No, there’s no budget…
  • No, top management won’t agree…
  • No, the market is not ready yet…
  • No, it might work in other places but not here…
  • No, that’s way too risky…
  • No, it doesn’t fit our strategy…
  • No, that’s for the future…

Be prepared to be met by all these idea-killers along the way. It might even spin you out of your company, as there is strong evidence that many of the new ideas implemented in new ventures are generated while the employee was working for a parent firm in the same industry: 71% of all startups replicated or modified an idea encountered in previous jobs.[i]

People and companies are risk-averse

The origin of all the opposition you encounter is that in essence most people and companies avoid risks. Moving beyond what they normally do makes them uncertain. In my lectures when I ask, “Who of you wants to be an innovator?” most hands go up in the air. When I follow up with, “Who of you wants to run a personal risk?” a lot of those hands go back down. For corporate innovators, it’s very frustrating when you’ve been assigned to come up with great new ideas only to see nothing materialize because the same managers who gave you your assignment say ‘no’ to every idea, business case or prototype you present. First of all, it’s a pity for all the work you and your team have put into it. And secondly, your organization is still lacking innovative solutions. However, your chances of surviving the innovation maze will rise if your idea meets the company’s strategy and innovation criteria.

Is your organisation prepared to adopt your idea and make it reality?

Helmut Panke, the ex-CEO of the BMW Group, said, “My biggest challenge is saying ‘no’ to projects that are exciting, but don’t fit BMW’s strategy.”[1] He hits the nail on its head. Your idea might be really exciting, but if it does not fit your company it will be killed sooner or later, most often early on at the front end. That’s why it’s wise to check this is as early as possible in the innovation process.

 “My biggest challenge is saying ‘no’ to projects that are exciting, but don’t fit BMW’s strategy.”   – Helmut Panke, former CEO of the BMW Group


In my view there are 7 criteria you can use to check if your idea fits your organization:

  1. Has your idea the potential to attain revenue and profit targets for new products? If not, rethink your business model.
  2. Does your idea fit the processes of your company? If not, would your organization be open to co-create it with others?
  3. Does your idea fit the people of your company? If not, would your organization be open to hiring new people with different skill sets or operate it with others?
  4. Does your idea fit the strategy of your company? If not, how can we tweak it to make it inclusive?
  5. Does your idea fit the investment budgets of your organization? If not, how can we lower the investments and/or find external financers to join in?
  6. Does your idea fit the customers of your organization? If not, how can we get access to these new target groups? Can we co-market the idea?
  7. Does your idea fit the present brand(s) of your organization? If not, can we introduce a new brand or co-brand the idea?

Well, if you have ticked six or seven boxes you’ve got a match. You can proceed with the next activity and work out the details later in the new business case. If you have ticked three to five boxes the match with your organisation is doubtful at the very least. Try to pivot your idea and business model to come up with a great idea which matches your organisation better. Or you might spin out your idea as a separate startup. If you have ticked two or even fewer boxes, there is no match at all with your organisation and spinning out your idea and the intellectual property rights could be a good option, which is actually a common practice at leading technical universities around the world.

If you want to prevent your idea to be rejected, make sure your idea fits the goals of your managers and your organisation’s goals.

I wish you lots of success on your innovation journeys.

[1] “Performance Driver: Helmut Panke”, Businessweek, June 7, 2004, p. 40.

[i] Developing New Ideas: Spin-outs, Spinoffs or Internal Divisions, Radoslawa Nikolowa, May 2011, working paper, p 2.

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Gijs van WulfenGijs van Wulfen helps organizations to structure the chaotic start of innovation as author, speaker, and facilitator. He is the founder of the FORTH innovation method and author of the innovation bestseller The Innovation Expedition. He was chosen by LinkedIn as one of their first 150 Influencers. Are you looking for an inspiring innovation speaker? Check out the video and great reviews at Follow Gijs @gijsvanwulfen Check out Gijs van Wulfen’s new book The Innovation Maze at: Amazon UK or Amazon US

Gijs van Wulfen




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