The opportunity cost of not saying no

When’s the last time you killed a project? Said you weren’t going to pursue an idea? Stopped offering a service? Shut down a product? Got rid of a process?

If you’re like most, it hasn’t happened recently.

One of my favourite client moments of all time was a meeting when we killed an idea.

In theory, it was a great idea. We were all a little bit in love with it. It was a giant-killer concept, bringing innovation to a moribund industry that desperately needs it, and delivering better service to clients at a lower price.

But we did primary research, and found that the incumbents were so entrenched, and the service was so marginal for the clients that price wasn’t going to get them to shift – not without more patience and marketing and investment than made sense, given the size of the prize. This idea’s time had not yet come.

And what I so much respected about this client was that he understood that the answer to this yes-or-no question was actually no. Not now, at least, and by “not now” we meant “not within the next 3-5 years; move on to your next idea for building your business.”

It wasn’t the easiest meeting, naturally, and we all certainly put the data through its paces, but, as my client said, “Better to know now than a couple of million dollars later, right?” And that’s why it’s one of my favourite moments, because it was so very valuable to get to the right decision.

To be sure, this is a whole lot easier when it’s a new idea. It’s harder when you’re talking about removing something that’s already in place – when you’re talking about how people do their jobs. And Have you asked them lately?

  • Are you saying no to innovations or new ideas because of lack of resources?
  • When’s the last time you did an overhaul of your systems and processes with an eye to streamlining and simplifying? (Or a full re-engineering of your processes?)
  • If you’d like to discuss how we can help you learn more about what your clients, users, or members value, or set and execute strategic priorities, please get in touch.

    Contact us at or call 416-737-3935 to discuss how we might be able to help.


    We offer resources to help leaders of associations and other not-for-profits think about their approach to strategy and governance, from various perspectives.