The Power of No

Venn HellThe power of “no” helps us to  make time available for the work we need to do in the arts, business, or life.

Here’s my summary of an article by Kevin Ashton called “Creative People Say No” about why creatives need to say no.

“No” guards time, but we’re taught not to say “no”  because it’s a rebuff.  But what does a “yes” cost?  A sketch? A stanza? A paragraph? An experiment? Twenty lines of code?  

When famous creators were asked to be interviewed for a book by a psychology professor, a third of the 275 creative people contacted said “no” due to a lack of time, and another third said nothing. An author’s secretary replied that, “(he) remains creative… at least in part, because he doesn’t allow himself to be a part of other people’s studies.” Another secretary responded, “… the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) doesn’t have time to help you…”

Creating consumes time. Remove the magic and myth of creating and what remains is: finding solutions,  trial and error,  thinking and perfecting. No matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There’re few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.

We don’t have enough time as it is, there’re groceries to buy, gas tanks to fill, families to love and day jobs to do. People who create know this. They know the world is all strangers with candy who need to be told no. 

Business people need and have to say “no” too. Can you make a good deal with a bad person? I don’t think so. Neither does Warren Buffett who says, “We only want to link up with people whom we like, admire, and trust. … We don’t wish to join with managers who lack admirable qualities, no matter how attractive the prospects of their business. We’ve never succeeded in making a good deal with a bad person.”

And if it does succeed it’ll take a lot more of your time and effort. Best to just say no.

Of the attributes of “like, admire, and trust” that Buffet mentioned, I’d say it’s really about trust, the most important attribute of the three. It’s been said that you are your brand and you have to maintain the trust others have in your brand. Otherwise, you won’t be able to do much with it because you’ll likely get lots of “no”s.

Time is the most precious thing we have and there’s nothing we can do to slow its marching along. But using the power of “no” lets us use a limited resource in the way we need to not how someone else would prefer we use it. Saying no isn’t easy to do, but the power of “no” is often the best answer.