Creativity Without Borders

Innovation from East and West

Why? Or Why Not?

How do you respond to an idea or request? You might find that it matters.

I live in the far western part of the United States, in what some call “the intermountain west.” “Remote” hardly covers it for this area. But maybe that’s a good thing.


Sawtooth Mountains

This is the high desert (2500 feet above sea level, or nearly 1000 meters), between the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon, and the Rocky Mountains that go through Colorado and Wyoming.  Just north is a forest that goes to the Canadian border, about eight hours by car.  Going south, you drive through desert all the way to the Mexican border, which is two to three days away.  Maybe being in a desert or being so far away from big cities does it, but there is something that goes on here that outsiders notice.  And it has to do with questions. 

Our relatively small city’s population (about half a million) has boomed in the last decade, mostly fueled by people moving inward from the west coast (Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles).  Why move here? The traffic is “meditative,” you can be hiking on serious trails 10 minutes away from downtown, and you can ski after work just 15 miles up the hill.  On top of that, the philharmonic, theaters, and concerts downtown are inexpensive and you can be home within 15 minutes (remember, no traffic).  Ok, so I sound like a Chamber of Commerce mouthpiece and I’ll hush but there is one big part of being here that has more to do with attitude and questions than the outdoors or culture.  It’s harder to capture than “the outdoors,” but could be more important for the long run vitality of the community.

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Idaho desert

A woman who moved from Atlanta captured the difference.

“In Atlanta, if I suggested trying something new at work or with my friends, they always asked, ‘why?’ As in, ‘why do that, this has worked for a long time.’  Or “why go to that new restaurant, we like the old one.’”

But when she moved to Boise and offered some new ideas, the response was “why not?”

Why (do it)?


Why NOT (do it)?

Simple but potent.

The act of saying “why not try it” rather than “why try it” changes the way you think.  It can also make—or break—the energy of someone who’s got an idea. 

I’ve been an academic entrepreneur (not a good thing to admit in most university settings) for a long time, partly because of where I live.  As a professor in a relatively young university in a relatively young community, we are still establishing “traditions” instead of living with ones from decades ago. I think that gives people not only permission but an obligation to ask “why not?” 

Try this for a week (see what I mean, I’m always asking myself and others to “just try it!”): when someone raises an idea or makes a request, instead of saying “we can’t do it” or “why should we,” STOP and say, “why not?”  So what if it doesn’t work?  Unless you’d put someone’s health in jeopardy, maybe take a risk and “just try it.”

Nancy K. Napier, Ph.D., is Professor of Strategy and International Business at Boise State University.


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