If you’re like most, you spend a lot of time thinking about what you say at work: Did my question make sense? Was that email worded properly? What’s the best way to pitch this new idea?
It makes sense to worry about language. Words matter. And in the context of your work life, they can sometimes mean the difference between being heard, and being ignored (or worse).
But what about the flip side of all this? With all the time we spend thinking about what to say at work, we seldom think about what not to say at work. But this can be just as important, because certain ideas and phrases can not only affect how people view you in the workplace, but they can actually affect the entire way you think. And whether or not you see it now, there are very common phrases being uttered in your business that could be quietly killing amazing, creative ideas.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 7 things you should never say at work:
1. “No, because…”
Whether you’re conscious of it or not, “No, because…” has become one of the most common, rapid-fire responses in the modern workplace.
No, because it’s too expensive. No, because that won’t help our quarterly goals. No, because no one in the industry does it that way.
“No, because…” is the product of our expertise. Any time we hear an idea related to our own experience; our brain immediately pokes holes. And while we think of this as a positive trait – that we’re able to quickly and efficiently separate “good” ideas from “bad” ideas – what it really causes us to do is miss out on some amazing opportunities. Because “No, because…” is the ultimate killer of great ideas.
The solution? Train yourself and your teams to respond to all new ideas with “Yes, and…” instead. For example, if someone suggests expanding your customer service from five days a week to seven, instead of immediately responding “No, because it’d be too expensive”, force your team to build on the idea with “Yes, and…” statements.
Yes, and this would increase customer satisfaction. Yes, and this could be promoted in our new marketing campaign. Yes, and this new marketing benefit and increased satisfaction would lead to increased revenue. Yes, and this increased revenue has the potential to cover increased costs of expanding our hours.
You get the idea. Don’t kill every new idea with “No, because…”. Use “Yes, and…” instead and see how they can blossom.
2. “What can we do to drive better quarterly results?”
Quarterly results are one of the biggest barriers to innovation. This may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true. A focus on driving results over such a short period of time creates an environment where employees are incentivized to iterate instead of innovating, often at the long-term expense of your customers.
For example, during my time as Head of Innovation and Creativity for Disney Parks, we – like all businesses – were looking for ways to drive new revenue.
Now, most businesses would simply ask themselves “What are ways we can make more money?” But at Disney, we took a different approach. Instead, we asked ourselves “What are the biggest pain points of coming to a Disney park?” Soon, we had a full list of pains:
I have to buy a ticket. I have to search around for my favorite characters. I have to wait in line.
Our team homed in on that last pain point: I have to wait in line. We asked ourselves: What if guests didn’t have to wait in line? How would we do that? Remove the front desk at our hotels? Take away the gate at the front of the park? Create a way to reserve your favorite rides in advance?
Needless to say, this was a pretty massive wish list. But after a lot of research, we realized that much of this actually was possible through the power of RFID technology, which we used to develop the “Disney Magic Band.” These RFID bracelets arrive at your home before you even come to the park, and can power much of your Disney experience, including serving as your hotel key (no front desk waiting), your ticket (no waiting to get into the park), and your payment portal (no waiting in long checkout lines to get merchandise).
Had we started our challenge by asking the question driven by quarterly results – How might we make more money? – we would have just iterated with something small, like an increase in park admission fees. But by refusing to explore short term fixes and challenging the rules of attending a Disney park instead, we were able to cause massive disruption and innovation. Best of all, in the long run, this disruption created way more profit than a simple iteration would have. Disney guests now have an average 60+ minutes of additional free time per day during their visit. And this free time has led to a record increase in food, beverage, and merchandise sales.
3. “I don’t have time to think.”
Where are you when you get your best ideas? The shower? The car? The treadmill?
No matter your answer, I can guarantee that it wasn’t “my desk at work.”.
Why is that? Quite simply, work does not allow us time to think. Our weekly calendars look like one gigantic barcode, and from the moment we arrive until the moment we leave each day, there is barely a second allocated to actually stopping and thinking. And without taking time to think, how can you possibly expect to get great ideas?
The biggest companies in the world have actually come to realize how massive a problem this is and have gone to great lengths to build a culture where “time to think” is encouraged. Steve Jobs loved to get away from his desk and take walks to think – so much so that when he designed the new Pixar corporate campus, one of his main priorities was having a layout that encouraged walking and “unplanned collaboration” via run-ins with different teams throughout the day. Google offers nearly every employee “20% Time,” which is a policy that encourages them to take 20% of their time to work on projects and ideas outside of their day-to-day responsibilities. And of course, many of you may have heard about Bill Gates’ bi-annual “Think Week,”, where he disconnects and heads to a cabin in the woods to do nothing but think about big-picture ideas.
No matter how busy you are, be proactive about blocking out time to stop and think.
4. “It needs to be perfect.”
In the late 1990’s, during the peak of the Dot-com bubble, Disney was making a push for its own version of AOL. It was called GO.com and was intended to be a portal for all things a person could possibly want on the internet.
In development for years, the company spent billions to get it right. Meeting after meeting, feature after feature, they just kept building. Executives were convinced that the product needed to be perfect before being released to the world. And finally, in January of 1999, this “perfect” product was launched.
But by January 2001, just two years after this billion-dollar portal was launched, Disney shut it down and laid off 400 employees. It was by all accounts a complete failure.
The problem with perfect is that it’s a fallacy. Nothing is ever truly perfect because what society views as perfection changes by the minute. So, what’s the answer?
When Apple released the iPhone in 2007, was it perfect? Some would say yes, but objectively it was not. How do we know this? Well, the recently announced iPhone 11 Max has multiple 12mp cameras (the original iPhone has one 2mp), 516gb of storage (the original iPhone had 8gb), and a 6.5in display (the original iPhone had a 3.5in) – plus a variety of other amazingly advanced features that Apple couldn’t even imagine in 2007.
If Apple had waited to release the “perfect” phone, they never would have released one at all, because the definition of perfection changed as technology changed. Instead, they decided to iterate and build on perfect. It was a process, and each year they pushed forward spec by spec, feature by feature.
Recognize that perfection can never actually be obtained. Make your product great, and then ship it. You’ll always be able to improve the next one.
An unfortunate reality of hiring is that we – intentionally or not – tend to hire people who look like ourselves. This is driven by a variety of factors, including ignorance, bias, and a long history of forming tribes and societies with those who looked like us.
Recently, many businesses have taken steps to correct this behavior, and make their employee pool “more diverse.” On the outside, this may sound great – but it’s not going far enough. If your company views “diversity” as a percentage or quota you need to hit, you’re missing the point entirely.
Having a diverse staff is about more than being fair and equal. Diverse individuals create cultures of diverse ideas, which leads to massive innovation.
Instead of worrying about quotas or hiring people of certain backgrounds to work on certain projects (e.g., hiring African Americans to work exclusively on “Urban Marketing”), focus on building a team with the greatest diversity of backgrounds and ideas. You’ll be amazed at how quickly a flood of new ideas and viewpoints opens up within your business.
6. “It’s not my job.”
This is one of the most dangerous phrases uttered inside the walls of a business. Because if left untreated, this mindset will grow like a cancer.
“It’s not my job…” is a sign that your business operates in silos and that you’re not fostering a culture of collaboration. People from different teams don’t interact, and as a result, everyone feels like they’ve got a very specific role – no more, no less. It’s like a relay race, where projects are handed off at each stage. Designers design the product. Engineers build the product. Marketers name and promote the product. And Sales sells the product. And when you pass it off to the next team, you wipe your hands of responsibility.
This system breeds “It’s not my job.” The solution? Create collaboration. Have members from the Sales and Marketing work on projects with the Design Group. Have Senior-Level Engineers shadow a Junior Saleswoman for the day. Mix and match and stir your pools of employees often, so that no one ever feels siloed from another department.
With this mentality, soon enough every job at your business becomes “our job.”
7. “We need to be more risk averse.”
Ten years ago, “innovation” became a trendy word. Many businesses decided that they needed to be more “innovative,” and so they went ahead and built “Innovation Departments” and other specialty creative teams. The idea was to create a think tank internally where new ideas could blossom.
Unfortunately, this had an unintended consequence: it told all the other non-Innovation departments that they didn’t need to be creative, that they weren’t expected to come up with new innovations.
Fast forward 10 years, and innovation is more important than ever. It’s no longer trendy…it’s required for survival. But the problem is that those working in roles outside of the creative teams have been conditioned to follow the status quo, to be risk averse, and to leave innovation to the Innovation Department. And now that CEOs are clamoring for more innovative ideas and asking ALL employees to contribute (like they should have been doing all along), there is mass confusion with how to proceed and break decades-old habits.
So, how do we fix this? By providing all employees with tools that train and encourage them to be creative and innovative, no matter their role. This is the whole reason I started my Toolkits, to show everyone from Accounting to Facilities Management how to think creatively and use tangible tools to identify areas of innovation within their business.
Companies can no longer survive if they avoid risk and follow the status quo. They need to find tools that empower everyone internally to take those leaps and share those thoughts that will drive new ideas and innovations–because these are the ideas that’ll carry the business forward for decades to come.
What Not to Say at Work
Language reinforces our core beliefs and behaviors. And as you can see here, if you’re not careful, it can be extremely detrimental to the success of your business. Remember, for as many things that you can say right at work, there are just as many things that you can say wrong.
Use this list as a reminder to avoid these common pitfalls. If you do, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll start to see the culture shift within your organization. And when that happens, buckle up…your rocket ship is about to launch towards something truly incredible.