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There’s a ‘Yes’ button for that problem

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Quallcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf speaks during a news conference at the Consumer Electronics Show press day on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Las Vegas.

Quallcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf speaks during a news conference at the Consumer Electronics Show press day on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Las Vegas.

Isaac Brekken, Associated Press

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

When 400 Qualcomm officers and vice presidents from around the world filed into a special meeting at the invitation of their CEO, they wondered what he had to say that would warrant such a gathering.

It was all about one word: “Yes.”

To make his point stick, Qualcomm’s CEO gave each of the VPs a special button similar in size and function to the Staples’ “Easy” button. However, the blue Qualcomm button has the voices of their CEO and president saying, “Yes” in all sorts of creative ways. “Absolutely!” and “Yes, yes, yes!”

The buttons, conceived to symbolize a powerful idea, are now brought into meetings, seen in conference rooms and have found their way into the cultural fabric of the company. We were given one of these special “Yes” buttons, and we too discovered how addicting it is to use.

But, what exactly does “Yes” mean?

“Our job is to solve problems that create meaningful experiences,” Dr. Murthy Renduchintala, co-president of QCT at Qualcomm in San Diego, California, told us when we interviewed him to learn about this unusual button.

Obviously, that’s a simplified definition. Qualcomm creates semiconductors, software platforms and wireless technologies, among many other things. Renduchintala oversees the work of 16,500 engineers in Qualcomm’s semiconductor business within the mobile and computing segment at the technology giant. “Solving problems is not something we think we can do. It’s something we must do. We must say ‘Yes.’”

Of course, it’s easy to think about the hungry entrepreneur saying “Yes” to a potential customer’s request and then scrambling to find a way to pull it off. But, when you’re a company that has grown to more than 30,000 employees, you can also imagine that the initial response of, “Yes,” can, over time, morph into, “No, that’s not something we offer.”

“This company started with seven people,” Renduchintala told us. “The founders had a simple vision to improve communications — and that meant saying ‘Yes’ to possibility. That DNA has always been in the fiber of the company. We were the company that, no matter the problem, deadline or situation, would find a solution. That is what has made us so successful over the years.”

Retaining that “Yes” spirit is a focal point for Tamar Elkeles, chief learning officer at Qualcomm. “The word ‘No’ doesn’t allow the conversation to get started,” she says. “The word ‘Yes’ allows our engineers to view new ideas with optimism. But, ‘Yes’ isn’t just for engineers. It opens all minds to opportunity.

“The ‘Yes’ button is a symbol that we see and can touch every day. It’s a clear reminder to everyone that this company enables change, encourages risk, pushes boundaries and is always open to new ideas.” But, would this “Yes” spirit of innovation work in non-tech companies?

A recent study released by the O.C. Tanner Institute, in conjunction with Forbes Insights, revealed that the Qualcomm spirit of innovation could become more common than you might think — if it’s invited, supported and encouraged.

“Data collected from all areas of the globe and from multiple industries showed that award-winning work is based on saying ‘Yes’ to finding new ways to create differences people love,” says Christina Chau, manager of research services at the O.C. Tanner Institute.

Qualcomm says Yes! Yes! Yes! from O.C. Tanner on Vimeo.

“The optimism that comes from not just saying ‘Yes,’ but pursuing ‘Yes,’ leads to positive results,” says Renduchintala. “The concept of the ‘Yes’ button isn’t just about work. I tell my kids about it. The button itself may have only been around for a year. But, that spirit has been with the company since its founding. The button is just a symbol that reminds us of our roots.”

How can you say “Yes” more often?

1. Re-assess your constraints. Just because you couldn’t do it in the past, doesn’t mean you can’t do it today. An outdated procedure may still be common practice, although it’s no longer necessary. In service environments, customers change and want new ways of doing business. In manufacturing environments, new thinking and technology advancements are consistently allowing us to do more with less. Every time you think “No,” also ask yourself, “Why not?”

2. Get your head nodding. Start practicing the action of saying “Yes.” It’s time to push yourself into the unknown — to discover new realms of possibility. Nod your head at the next few challenges that come your way. See what happens. Saying “Yes” instead of “No” may be just the catalyst you need to make a real difference.

Obviously, every business is different. But just for a day, listen to all the times you say “No” and analyze why you’re not saying “Yes.”

The final words of our interview with Renduchintala may inspire you to nod your head a little more often. We asked him, “Is getting to ‘Yes’ always possible?”

He paused, but only for a split second. “If it becomes totally impossible to find a solution to a technical problem, then we have probably discovered a new law of physics.”

David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom work with the O.C. Tanner Institute. Learn more about The New York Times bestseller "Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love" (McGraw-Hill) at greatwork.com.