InnovationProduct ManagementSaeed

Stop saying “No” and start asking “Why”

by Saeed Khan


Every day, it seems, I see another blog post or article on product development that tells people to say “No” to feature requests.

Don’t believe me? Just do a web search on Say No to feature requests, or something similar, and you’ll see what I mean.

This advice to say “No” started, I’m certain, with this quote from who else but Steve Jobs.

“Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying NO to all but the most crucial features.”

Jobs said this to a group of people from the music industry, who, when showed a preview of the iTunes Music Store, started asking about potential feature enhancements. “Will it do [this]?”, “Will it do [that]?” etc.

This line, like the famous Ford faster horses line that Jobs also spoke about, is definitely a truism, but doesn’t constitute a hard and fast rule, dictating to people that they must say “No” to feature requests.

In the Jobs’ quote, he was simply explaining what he (rightly) believed about the innovation process.

“Why” is better than “No”

Instead of simply saying “No”,  people need to ask “Why?” and try to truly understand the reasons behind the request.

The people making the request should have a clear reason (in their mind) of why they’re making the request, and it is incumbent on you to find out.

Feature requests are pre-conceived solutions to problems. Asking “Why?” (as many times as needed and in as many different ways as needed) will get to the heart of the problem.

And only then should a Yes/No decision be made.

And even with a “No” decision, it can be “No, right now we have other priorities, but we’ll definitely consider it in the near future.” response. i.e. “No” is not always an absolute “No”

The more you understand “Why”, the more context you gain over time at underlying patterns. Different feature requests may simply be different perceived solutions to the same problem.

You’ll never realize this without asking “Why?”

So while I agree that we should say No to non-crucial items, you’ll never know what is and isn’t crucial unless you understand why.


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About the Author

Saeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.