Innovation Strategy #1: Don’t Take ‘No’ for an Answer

    by Nonny de la Peña
    November 24, 2010

    This past week, Tom Grasty and I were invited to the Paley Center as part of “The Next Big Thing: The New News Entrepreneurs.” We were asked to present Stroome before an extraordinary audience stuffed with CEOs, COOs and presidents of some of the world’s most important media companies.

    During one presentation, Google’s entertaining president of global sales operations and business development, Nikesh Arora, claimed the company culture regarding innovation at Google is about saying “let’s try to find a way to say yes.” It was one of the most inspiring leadership principles laid out during the two-and-a-half day conference on the rebirth of media. (Although I admit a favorite moment was reassuring a very smart but nervous Sean Parker after he confessed to me that he was worried he hadn’t prepared enough for his impending talk — and of course he did fine.)

    Dealing with ‘No’s’

    The reality on innovation, however, is that there are few paths more littered with “no’s” than that of an entrepreneur trying to bring a startup to market. Such rejections may not feel as bad as it is for an actor, where the unchangeable nature of appearance makes being rebuffed a truly personal experience. However, trying to convince the world that your idea has a resonance in reality often means figuring out ways both subtle and strident to shake off detractors. I have had to hold close to the “won’t take ‘no’ for an answer” adage in conceptualizing and creating Stroome.


    For example, the alpha version of the site was built as a master’s thesis at USC’s Annenberg School of Communications Program for Online Communities. When I first conceived of the idea and explained what I wanted to do, one of my main instructors, Andrew Schrock, told me Stroome couldn’t be done and I shouldn’t pursue it. I dug in my heels and began doing the hard work of researching and laying out the technological components necessary to bring the concept together. Then, last spring, when Tom Grasty and I presented our next iteration of Stroome at the Annenberg launch event, Andrew and I shared a laugh over our dust-up.

    I learned the importance of “won’t take ‘no’ for an answer” the hard way. As a freelance reporter, documentary filmmaker and Hollywood writer, I have heard “no” so many times, it could probably fill a Tolstoy-sized novel. In fact, there was one documentary pitch I used to pull out of the drawer every year until, after ten years, A&E finally stepped up to the plate to produce “The Whistleblower,” an extraordinary story of an Alaska oilman tricked by America’s largest oil corporations using intrigue, hidden cameras and beautiful girls.

    Of course, I have never been alone in being told my ideas were bunk. To see how others have been dealt rejections, see this blog about perseverance, which quotes from rejection letters received by a wide range of legendary writers from Dr. Seuss to Anne Frank. Another site, published by Forbes, tries to offer some ideas on shifting no to yes in the corporate world.


    Finally, I must also add one extremely important “no” to this story. The Knight Foundation rejected Stroome the first year we applied. I would like to say that luckily we applied again, but luck had nothing to do with it. Taking one on the chin and having the gumption to go in for another round is what has put Stroome on the path it is on today.

    Tagged: entrepreneur innovation nikesh arora paley center sean parker stroome usc annenberg

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