Are You the Vice President of We Can’t?

Every company has a Vice President of We Can’t. No matter what the idea is, now matter how interesting or beneficial it might be, and no matter why the idea is being pursued, the answer is the same: “We can’t.”

The Vice President of We Can’t can help keep a company focused on their sweet spot. They can also be so rigid and inflexible as to cause their company to miss a lot of opportunities that a more nimble, more flexible, more entrepreneurial company would easily capture.

Are you the VP of We Can’t?

Automatically shoots down ideas.

Do you reflexively shoot down new ideas? When someone brings up an idea, something outside of the box, is your first reaction to describe all of the reasons you are unable to take action on that idea and why it won’t work?

The Vice President of We Can’t cannot stop himself from immediately sharing all of the reasons that something cannot be done. He is certain of it.

Or, can you listen to an idea without making a judgment? Do you allow the person sharing a novel idea to explain the idea and why they believe it is worth pursuing? Are you open to exploring new ideas?

Doesn’t engender resourcefulness.

When you are confronted with a new idea or something that might need to be done for a client, do you engender resourcefulness?

The VP of We Can’t will never allow a person with a new idea to spend time on it. It’s too risky; they might actually do enough work that action will have to be taken around their ideas. Instead, they kill off their resourcefulness and insist that their people simply do the job for which they were hired.

You hire people. Inside those people are their brains, and more than anything else, your success or failure hinges on your ability to help your people exercise the resourcefulness and the initiative that lives there. Will they make mistakes? Bet on it (Big ones, too). But mistakes are where real learning occurs.

Ignore evidence contrary to your beliefs

The Vice President of We Can’t has a scotoma. They can’t see evidence that is contrary to their beliefs.

Your people may protest and show you evidence that other people are doing exactly what they are recommending, and with great success. But that evidence will carry no weight. As the VP of We Can’t, you can’t see the evidence, even if it presented to you directly.

It’s healthier to look at the evidence. If your neighbor’s yard is greener than your yard, maybe they’re doing something to produce better results than you are. Don’t rush to judgment on the evidence; quietly reflect on it and see if there isn’t some truth in it that you might also capture.

Has a narrow view of capabilities.

The VP of WC tremendously underestimates what their people and their company are really capable of. Instead, they are the great defenders of the status quo.

There is a difference between playing to your sweet spot and a rigid, pedantic view opposed to anything that you aren’t already doing. There are areas where playing in the gray areas would allow your people to grow new capabilities—and more than likely your next client offering.

What if your people are capable of far more that you can imagine?

Doesn’t allow for exceptions

This probably should be the first point. The problem with ignoring new ideas and new identified needs is that it doesn’t allow for exceptions.

Your largest, most strategic, key clients are built on a list of exceptions. To serve them, you have dedicated additional resources, you have made internal changes, and you have made exceptions that allowed you to fit your solution to your client. When you say, “We can’t,” you are rejecting what it takes to win and retain large clients.This is how you lose big clients.

Exceptions create value for you clients. Exceptions are what make you flexible, easy to do business with, and entrepreneurial—all the things you say you are and that you say you want to be.

If you are the Vice President of We Can’t, consider a change in your title and your role. Maybe try out something like Vice President of That’s Damn Interesting, Tell Me More.


Why do we sometimes view our capabilities to narrowly?

Why is it difficult to try new things and to make exceptions?

Look at your biggest clients. Make a list of all the exceptions to your current practices that have allowed you to create value for them. What new value might be created by new exceptions?

How do you encourage failure and learning?

How do you find exceptions and initiatives to which you can say “yes?”

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