7 February 2019 | 22 Comments
In my job before running Stonemaier Games, one of my responsibilities was to run a big fundraising event for a nonprofit. As many of these events do, it included a silent auction and an event chairperson.
I would work very closely with the chairperson for 6+ months leading up to the event. One year, we were just a few weeks away from the event, and things seemed to be going well. I got an e-mail from the chairperson with some ideas about the organization of auction items, and I replied in agreement of some and counterpoints to others.
The next day, the chairperson replied to say that she was tired of hearing “no” from me, and she was stepping down as the chairperson.
I was shocked. I reread my email multiple times to confirm that it contained a healthy dose of affirmations, and it did. I shared it with my organization’s director of development, and she agreed; however, she brought up a great point: Perhaps it wasn’t this specific email, but rather a culmination of rejections to someone who was accustomed to hearing “yes” from most people in her life.
She was absolutely right. Over the last 5 months, I had said “no, but” more times than “yes, and.” The result was a chairperson who didn’t feel valued, especially in the face of her significant contributions of time, talent, and money. Without realizing it, I made her feel like some of her ideas were dumb.
Our development director managed to salvage the relationship (accompanied by many apologies from me), but in many ways, it was too late. The chairperson barely spoke to me for the rest of the planning period, and she and her family noticeably decreased their involvement in the organization after the event.
Why am I writing about this today? Well, a few days ago a member of the Los Angeles Rams organization, Zac Taylor, was hired to be the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. I was reading an article about this, and near the end of it Taylor mentioned something about Rams coach Sean McVay that stood out to me:
“Everyone felt valued. No idea was dumb or too great to be a part of the plan,” he said. “Everybody felt like their role was important. It’s easy to come to work every single day when you feel like there is value to what you are doing and you feel appreciated so you try to establish that same culture there.”
It struck me partially because it’s not the type of thing I’d expect to hear about an NFL coach. Normally people talk about how prepared coaches are, how they expect excellence from their players, and how they see the game in a special way. It’s unusual for someone to talk about a football coach in regards to how they collaborate and value their staff and players.
Not only did it dig up the memory of the fundraising event, but it also made me realize two things about myself and other creators/entrepreneurs:
- When I was a Kickstarter creator, I said “no” to backers all the time. In fact, I have several blog entries about how to say no (here and here). While I still believe it’s important for creators to feel comfortable saying no, I think I should have focused less on the necessity of rejection and more on valuing backers by creating a culture of no dumb ideas. That isn’t to say there aren’t ideas that would be historically bad if I implemented them; however, I don’t want to ever make backers, customers, clients, and readers feel dumb. Because the minute I do that in any conversation, either the engagement ends or it turns into an argument.
- Now as someone who runs a company and (even though I’m the only full-time employee) works with a lot of different people connected to Stonemaier Games, I still focus on my response to ideas (yes/no) way more than I focus on encouraging more and better ideas. I think I might be unintentionally making people feel dumb all the time in the way I respond to them.
I really want to get better at this. Awareness is one thing, but actually improving is quite another. While I haven’t seen Sean McVay’s tactics in action behind the scenes, there are a few minutes in the Daniel Pink video below (19:24) when I can see how he encourages the flow of ideas. I want to emulate this.
What do you think about this? As a creator or entrepreneur, how do you create a culture of collaboration? How do you not make people feel dumb even if you don’t implement their idea? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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