Chris Brogan and I had a disagreement

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Simplify, simplify, simplify. This is a noble goal. Really thinking through a problem in order to simplify a complex concept always pays dividends.

However, “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler.” This is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein. All simplifying isn’t a good thing. For example, stereotyping is a form of simplification that gets us into trouble.

Here’s where I’m going. For a while now, I’ve noticed a growing trend to give advice that in effect says, “Say No, More Often.” It’s become a bit of a pet-peeve for me because I think we’ve crossed over into that dangerous area of over-simplification.

Chris Brogan’s Sunday newsletter, which is an always read for me, focused an issue on this advice. In that issue he advises – “Say no. Say no far more often. Find what you’re agreeing to and stop it.” Now I love Chris’s stuff. He helped me create the model for our email newsletter. I consider him a friend. I agree with him 99.9% of the time. His message that Sunday was the tipping point for me though on this saying no thing.

I went back and forth with Chris via email and while we didn’t change each other’s minds we did agree to stop arguing. 😉 I love ya buddy.

Just this morning two new articles on the subject showed up on my screen. One from my friend Tripp Braden – Can Entrepreneurs Embrace the Power of No? and also, The Ten Commandments of No. These are well written articles. There is value below the surface. I’m just concerned about the possible message being sent. So, I felt like I wanted to write about this today.

Here’s my problem with the advice to Say No, More:

  • It is often a simplified diagnosis to a perceived symptom and not the underlying disease. What problem are we trying to solve?
  • Saying No is seldom on point to solve most of the problems being discussed.
  • Solving a problem may result in Saying No. But it is only the result and not the actual solution.
  • The person receiving this advice can easily misinterpret the advice with unintended negative consequences.

The recommendations to Say No fall into a few topic categories – time management, metering creativity, entrepreneur focus, or thought leadership.

The message always falls short for me. It’s like prescribing a simple solution without a diagnosis. It’s more complex than that. For example, if you aren’t getting things on your task list accomplished it seems that saying no to more things is logical. However in my experience, the problem is always more complicated than just being a pushover with your schedule.

Perhaps a person suffers from a deep seated need to please and says yes to everything. Saying No more often for this person is a great message and should be delivered by a licensed psychologist. I’m not sure an article targeted to a wide audience is helpful.

  • Do you need to better understand your mission and vision? Then do that.
  • Do you need to get control of your schedule and delegate better? Then, do that.
  • Do you need to learn to turn focus on and off? Then, do that.
  • Do you need to get better at making decisions? Then, do that.
  • Do you need to learn to be honest? Then, do that.
  • Do you watch TV when you should be working? Then, fix that.

It can be dangerous when a leader says no too fast and too often. I was helping just such a leader. There was clearly a disconnect between her and her team and we were trying to get to the bottom of the situation. People complained about lack of support resulting in a lack of trust.

So, I asked the leader and team members how often she said no. It turns out it was a lot. When I asked why, she told me that she read a leadership article that championed saying no more often and getting control of her life. Ugh!

As a leader it’s not just your life and schedule that needs to be under control. Ideas should come fast and furious. No one is disheartened if their idea doesn’t cut it. We’ll just come up with another one. But the whole process of engagement that creates the new ideas grinds to a halt if you as a leader don’t handle it correctly. Saying No too early kills ideas and spirits.

It’s alright to say no. It’s just not alright to say no automatically. Think about it when you want to say no. A couple weeks ago we discussed an example in regard to being overbooked for meetings and the leadership opportunity provided. See the I Love Meetings post.

Please be discerning. Be aware of your goals. Stay focused. Think for yourself. Also, please be careful with NO!

I’m sure the advice to Say No will keep coming. I just hope you’ll break it down and extract the right value for you. That’s not simple.

To do this week: I know you’re brilliant – because you’re here. However, take a look this week for anything where you may not be paying close attention and assuming conventional wisdom because the message is repeated regularly. Tackle the item and really think it through.

Let me know how it’s going. Click the “comments” box below to participate in an on-going discussion via LinkedIn.

Jim Canterucci

I don't know everything. But I want to. The focus of our firm, Transition Management Advisors, is to develop leadership capabilities to create a championship culture, generate innovation, and successfully lead the resulting changes.

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On May 16, 2017
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