2 Mental Exercises For Battling "It Won't Work" Syndrome

About This Blog

This site is for  entrepreneurs.  A full RSS feed to the articles is available.  Please subscribe so we know you're out there.  If you need more convincing, learn more about the site.



And, you can find me on Google+

Connect on Twitter

Get Articles By Email

Your email:


Blog Navigator

Navigate By : 
[Article Index]

Questions about startups?

If you have questions about startups, you can find me and a bunch of other startup fanatics on the free Q&A website:


Subscribe to Updates


30,000+ subscribers can't all be wrong.  Subscribe to the OnStartups.com RSS feed.

Follow me on LinkedIn


Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

2 Mental Exercises For Battling "It Won't Work" Syndrome


Every company has ideas that come up (sometimes frequently).  And, based on the stage of the startup and the degree to which the idea is unconventional, there are always good, rational reasons why the given idea can't possibly work.  There are also bad, irrational reasons too.  The problem is, it's hard to tell the difference.bad idea

Here are some of common reasons why something won't work:

1) We've debated this several times before and have decided it wouldn't work.

2) We've tried this before, it didn't work.

3) Doesn't really fit our sales model.

4) It's not appropriate for our industry.

5) It might work for tiny/small/large/huge companies, but we sell to tiny/small/large/huge companies, and it won't work for them.

6) Our investors/board would never agree to it.

7) It might work, but we can't afford the risk that it won't.  (Note: When someone says “it might work…but…” they're almost always thinking: It won't work)

8) Our team/plan/pitch-deck is not really setup for that.

9) We could try it, but it's a distraction.  (Note: This often means “I've already decided it's not going to work, but I can tell I need to convince you we shouldn't try it…”)

There are many, many more reasons why any given idea won't work, but the above are a sufficient sample for this article. Oh, and by the way, I have at various points in time made all of these very same arguments myself (“I have met the enemy” and all that)

2 Mental Exercises To Try

Now, here are a couple of mental exercises to try when you or you or your team is stuck.

Exercise #1: What if I told you that it's working really, really well for XYZ Company?  How do you think they made it work?

The idea here is to assume the idea is good and has worked for a company very similar to yours.  Then, ask yourself (or your team):  Now that we know it worked for them, what do we think they did to make it work? 

What this does is mentally nudge you to think about how to work through whatever the obvious limitations to the idea already are.

Example: I know that nobody in our industry uses a freemium model because the infrastructure/support costs are just too high.  But, we just learned that XYZ Company is launching a free version.  What do we think they did to make it work?

Exercise #2: What if we had the proverbial gun held to our heads and we had to do [x]?

The idea here is to assume/accept that the decision to implement the idea has already been made — presumably by some higher authority.  Now, assuming that, what would you do to make the best of it?

Example: Our major investors just told us that before they can agree to funding our next round, we need to build an inside sales team.  They think inside sales teams are the bomb.  We can't afford not to listen to them — what do we do to make the best of the situation?  If we had to build an inside sales team, how would we go about doing it?

Note:  In neither case am I suggesting that you mislead your team (or yourself, in case you're like me and have conversations with yourself late at night).  These are meant to be mental exercises, just to help drive discussion and analysis.  Though I'll confess, there is a small part of me that wonders what would happen if one did make the hypothetical seem real (at least for a short period of time).

What do you think?  Any mental tricks or tactics you've used (or thought of using) to help break-through conventional thinking?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Fri, Sep 20, 2013


Excellent mental model to use for these types of discussions. Thanks for the post.

posted on Friday, September 20, 2013 at 4:20 PM by LaVonne Reimer

That's a very nice list of excuses. 
I've had this Ideas Killer list for many years. 
It doesn't grab me.  
They'll never buy it. 
You're not paid to think. 
You're new, aren't you? 
It doesn't fit into our system. 
Get your priorities straight. 
That's not your problem. 
Don't make waves. 
It just doesn't grab me. 
Who's going to do it? 
It's been done to death. 
It's not up to our standards. 
You gotta be kidding. 
It'll turn everybody off. 
Are you going to pay for it? 
It's not our style. 
It sounds too simple. 
It sounds too complicated. 
Don't fight city hall. 
Sounds crazy to me. 
So, what else is new? 
We will discuss it sometime. 
We'll think about it when we have time. 
We can't afford it until business picks up. 
If we wanted your opinion, we'd ask. 
This is a business, not a charity. 
I know what the customer wants. 
What school taught you to think like that? 
You don't really mean that do you? 
We've never done anything like that. 
Give that idea to our competitors. 
We have a chain of command around here. 
How in the world did you come up with that? 
If you have to explain it, it's too complicated. 
E-mail me for the rest 
Dave@daveSavage.com Atlanta

posted on Friday, September 20, 2013 at 9:39 PM by Dave Savage

Interesting to be honest! And I concur with your points here. I believe if you are not motivated, inspired and if you didn't love your job, most probably you will say all those words above like; it’s not appropriate for our industry, and “Our investors/board would never agree to it”. 
In my opinion, you must have a good state of mind, even if it is a WIN-WIN-WIN situation. HAHA! I am just inspired because I've read an article a while ago about 'WIN-WIN-WIN". To wrap this up, the exercises are great. You must take it a shot! :) 
I found this post shared on Kingged.com, the Internet marketing social site, and I "kingged" it and left this comment.

posted on Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 8:57 AM by Metz

And then there is the old "ah, yes, xyz tried it and it did not work for them". Saw that at an old company and the spinoff with that technology just raised a second round well north of $20m. 

posted on Saturday, September 21, 2013 at 12:20 PM by Marc Sheldon

Take the "I" Out of Team 
Great thought provoking article.The weak link and the strongest asset is the human spirit. It has been my observation that team development is critically important to the task at hand. While we put teams together all the time to complete tasks, we don't always lay the foundation for the team to understand the goal and create a truly collaborative environment. I'm not talking about document sharing, video conference calling, or having a pow-wow at the local pub. Getting the hidden agenda's identified immediately and collaboratively is essential. Topics such as why was this idea chosen, W.I.F.M from each team member, understand who will benefit, and who will perceive this to be a failure, success, and why? Breed team vs team incentives that will benefit all team members, and set honest objectives that focus on the task at hand and the company you represent. Anything can be achieved laying this important collaborative foundation. You will find yourself getting better results and the team will begin focusing on the task with a less is more attitude (I'm not advocating not using technology, but it can be done in some instances), and you will truly will be able to accomplish something great and innovative. The team will gain synergy when the deep questions are answered and the team itself will benefit. When there are alternate agenda's or team members that stand to gain or loose more, either personally or professionally, or when the team hears "good job Joe" from a manager, but fails to recognize teamX for that task, that is when the entire project falls apart as the human element comes into play and destroys your team. Take the "I" out, and all will be well.

posted on Sunday, September 22, 2013 at 11:16 AM by Robert Brown

I love this article. It's so much easier to shoot things down than figure out how to make them work. These ideas could work wonders with a web design team that was open to trying new things.  

posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 3:09 PM by Tamara

I enjoyed the article, mainly because it hit so close to home. It reminds me of a quote I love.  
"Doubt and fear are the great enemies of knowledge, and he who encourages them, who does not slay them, thwarts himself at every step. He who has conquered doubt and fear has conquered failure." - As a Man Thinketh, James Allen 
Idea for other ways to break through conventional thinking...PRAY! :)

posted on Monday, September 23, 2013 at 4:06 PM by Ben Sutton

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” ~Winston Churchill 
We tend to over think and over analyze everything, thus causing us to have negative thoughts. Whenever we come up with ideas we label it directly or indirectly as "IT WON'T WORK!" Your ideas/exercises are clever, especially the first one. 
I found and "kingged" the post on Kingged.com.

posted on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 6:36 AM by Joanne

This was awe inspiring! There are some issues which the employer cannot use - in my case with forty years of hands on experience, my age in my own mind is the "mountain" to overcome. One knows when heard a thousand times over "You're overqualified". One would think companies WANT overqualified. 
I enjoyed this article, it gave me a choice to look at my age/expertise in a positive manner. 

posted on Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 9:27 AM by Melissa

Lean StartUp Movement has a way to do quick prototyping and measure results.

posted on Tuesday, October 01, 2013 at 4:08 AM by Vijay

Would love to learn more!

posted on Tuesday, October 01, 2013 at 4:26 AM by Hanne Lille-Schulstad

These exercises are definitely worth trying! Our mindset often pre-determines the outcome, hence the quote - «Whether you think you can or you can't, you are probably right.» J It is important that to start a project with a clear vision and a positive approach. What sources of information related to this topic would you recommend?

posted on Tuesday, October 01, 2013 at 7:34 AM by Viktoriya Semyrodenko

I believe that it is important to have new business ideas and strategies. One of the main way that Business have success if by innovating and trying new strategies. If a company is not willing to change and adapted to there situation the will have a higher chance to fail.

posted on Wednesday, October 02, 2013 at 6:34 AM by micael travis Guadamuz

I believe that it is important to have new business ideas and strategies. One of the main way that Business have success if by innovating and trying new strategies. If a company is not willing to change and adapted to there situation the will have a higher chance to fail.

posted on Wednesday, October 02, 2013 at 6:36 AM by Michael Travis Guadamuz

Actually from the whole the content, I got matching and understandable from the section, tips as common reasons why something won't work. It is really true. Returning from this similar experience, I can make you sure about the following things. Thanks. Keep it UP!!

posted on Wednesday, October 02, 2013 at 1:31 PM by Micro jobs

The fact is unless you know market X so freaking well you can never get answer to a question if particular idea works or not. Only market (customers) can answer that. 
So stop brainstorming and get the fuck out of the building and ask customers. 
Like Bezos said - you need to increase the number of experiments if you want to succeed.

posted on Friday, October 04, 2013 at 3:44 PM by Serge

Inspiring article, if you just throw the rule book out the window and forget how your going to achieve your end goal but believe you will succeed with your enormous efforts you will get their. It's all about doing what's different than what other people believe is the only way :)

posted on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 9:25 PM by Justin

I am agree with the article but sometime these motivational post are a little risky because maybe someone could forget to map all the issues of an startup. 
One issue is the possibility of the failure of an startup and the entrepreneur always should be ready for that and for learn about the failure.

posted on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 12:05 AM by Alberto

Excellent post, Dharmesh. I'm used to the second strategy you mentioned (the gun one). We've divided it into two proverbial parts: my head, and my wife's gun. Done. It really works! ;) 

posted on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 8:18 AM by Raheel Farooq

Interesting ideas. However, they could be dangerous since sometimes gut reactions to ideas may end up being correct. However, I do like the two alternatives to push the discussion. Very interesting post.

posted on Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 8:04 AM by Steven J Fromm

It's very interesting post. I also read for this theme "Theory of Inventive Problem Solving" autor Altshuller

posted on Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 4:51 AM by Alexey

Hi Dharmesh, this is an interesting topics and I guess everyone faced similar challenges in one or another situation. I think both strategies you described can work very well. Success of other similar companies is a good "social proof" that a particular solution can be efficient. The second idea can leverage a bit of stress to drive the team forward. Personally, I like the first one better :) 
Here's what I'd add: an idea might be easier to implement if you split it into smaller parts. On the psychological side, it's easier to get started then. And step by step, you can make "small wins".

posted on Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 3:30 AM by Dasha Golubeva

Comments have been closed for this article.