For many years in my various businesses, I heard a recurring complaint about one particular aspect of my leadership style that regularly frustrated a number of my team members. I'm sure there were many other complaints over the years as well, but this one was so common that I spent more time explaining my peculiar approach in this instance than I did addressing just about anything else--except possibly my reluctance to get regular haircuts.
The "problem" was my custom of occasionally assigning the same task to several people simultaneously. People would be pissed, or disappointed and think all kinds of things--I didn't trust them, I was wasting their time.
I'm sure there were some downsides to this approach, since it's apparently so very important for everyone to stay in their own lane, but from my perspective it had at least two critical benefits: a) duplication dramatically increased the likelihood that the thing would get done and done on time or sooner; and b) it often resulted in solutions that were novel, unexpected, and better thought-out than the more typical and/or traditional answers.
As things happened, two heads were often better than one even if they didn't realize that they were dealing with the same concern and even if, very infrequently, they might step on each other's toes. The smartest thing you can ever do in decision making is to make sure that you have considered as many options and different choices as possible.
Not that I ever felt bad about my strategy (which I thought of as the CEO's prerogative) or that I regretted using additional and sometimes redundant or scarce company talent and resources to run some of these things to ground. But it's always good from time to time to have some confirmation that you're not headed completely in the wrong direction and, of course, when the "word" comes from Jeff Bezos of Amazon, it feels especially good.
The Jeffism in question states that "there are multiple paths to yes." He happy to have multiple people at Amazon chasing the same rabbit, and he goes even further and violates the cardinal Mom-versus-Dad rule that we all learned growing up by suggesting that a team member who gets turned down by one manager should feel free to go try the same request on another manager who might be smarter, more favorably inclined, in possession of better information, or just more flexible. When I was a kid, this was the oldest ruse in the book - if Mom or Dad said no, you'd just go ask your other parent about the same thing praying for a more favorable result.
When I was a trial lawyer we used to call this "forum shopping," which means looking for a friendly or sympathetic judge's courtroom in which to bring your lawsuit, hoping that you'd get a better ruling. Today, if you're a gun nut, you file all your lawsuits before hyper-conservative district court judges in California or elsewhere in the South to get the initial outcomes you want. Class action lawyers all know that Texas and Alabama judges hate insurance companies, so that's where they file all their nationwide complaints along with their "spilled super-hot coffee in my lap" and "found a body part in my peanuts" tort claims.
According to Jeff, not only isn't there anything wrong with looking for a better answer when your pitch gets turned down, but carrying on and looking elsewhere is also often likely to lead to much better results. My experience was the same. Things got done more quickly, there were more paths forward in front of me, and the ongoing competition between the various choices sharpened everyone's focus.
Of course, before you drive yourself over the cliff, or spend too much time chasing too many rabbits, you do need to think carefully about why you're getting a negative response in the first place. It's good to really know why the response has been a no.
Sometimes, you're just in the wrong place or asking the wrong people. Other times, it's a matter of bad timing--a "no for now," which means your salespeople need to keep pushing forward and asking for the order. And finally, there are even times (perish the thought!) when your product or service just isn't the right fit, and you just have to do yourself and the customer a favor and take your ball and head home.
But before you bail, or bag the whole thing, remember these three critically important rules:
1) To succeed at anything important in life, you're gonna have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince or princess -- so be patient, get used to some rejection as you're pushing the envelope, but keep pressing ahead.
2) Never accept a no from anyone who can't say yes or write the check. Get thyself, by hook or by crook, in front of the actual decision maker.
3) Don't ever be reluctant to widen the lens, to ask for more ideas, to look outside and all around the box, and to be willing to occasionally appear foolish or stupid -- as we all have -- because some of the very best ideas are those that start out sounding crazy and only look smart and obvious in retrospect.