Have a creative idea? Reid Hoffman and June Cohen say get used to hearing no

By Zlati Meyer

October 01, 2021

Once seen as the province of industries such as design, marketing, and branding, creativity has become a skill that now pervades all aspects of business. The aim is to identify it, foster its growth, and then infuse it everywhere to propel abstract ideas into concrete ones and improve upon existing sectors.

That innovative drive—whether juicing up unsexy industries (Hi, supply chain) or galvanizing the power behind a new business pitch—is not always welcome, though. Getting shot down is often exactly what it takes to get back up again—stronger, trimmer, more focused.

“For me, the hallmark of a truly creative idea is actually that it will evoke, in almost every person, the response of no . . . truly creative ideas are not met with like fireworks and applause,” June Cohen, cofounder and CEO of the media company WaitWhat, said Friday at the 2021 Fast Company Innovation Festival. “They are actually met with a parade of people who will tell you, ‘no, I can’t see it. No, that won’t work. No, no, no.’”

The the first thing any creative leader has to do is learn to “interpret those noes in a different way,” she adds.

Not every creative person scores big—or even at all—adds Cohen, who is also the former head of TED media. Some people have loads of ideas, but don’t know how to channel them. It’s an entrepreneur who brings the idea to life. To paraphrase, David Mamet, “always be creating.”

Part of that comes from scaling, according to Reid Hoffman, who helped launch and grow PayPal, cofounded and served as the CEO of LinkedIn, and now is a partner at Greylock Partners.

“You actually have to get something that has a really good go-to-market motion, that has a deep emotional resonance, that can kind of surprise and delight,” Hoffman said. “You have to have a differentiated contrarian, but right theory, and your go-to-market theory and your product theory and your service, you have to be constantly adjusting.”

Hoffman also hosts the podcast “Masters of Scale,” which features interviews with prominent CEOs, such as Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox, and Mellody Hobson of Ariel Investments. The podcast is from WaitWhat and Cohen is an executive producer.

And “Masters of Scale” has itself scaled. It includes not only the Hoffman vehicle, but also a book, an app, and a weekly podcast about the real-time lessons of changing business, called “Rapid Response.” (Full disclosure: It’s hosted by former Fast Company editor Bob Safian.) A website and summit are also forthcoming.

“For anyone scaling, we are always in fast-changing landscapes . . . building the entrepreneurial mindset or mindsets that will serve you in any landscape at any time,” Cohen said. “Have a bias for action. Move faster than you think you can. Learn to unlearn. Let fires burn. Listen to the nose. These mindsets that can be learned. You don’t have to be born with them.”

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