According to Tom Hanks it is. According to Steve Jobs it is. But what about us lesser mortals?
I'm not convinced that if I said 'no' more, it would really get me anywhere in my career. I don't think it would make that much difference to the hours that I work or the quality of the work that I do. Maybe that makes me too much of a 'yes' person, but since I love my job and I have always made the jobs that I've done into something that I love, I find it hard to think in terms of saying 'no'.
I do know one or two folks who have said 'no' to their customers in the past and that simple refusal appeared to spark a sort of perverse desire on the part of that customer for it to be them that they instruct and nobody else. But these seem to be more freak occurrences than good business practice or a sensible career development strategy to me.
I'm a firm believer that if you're a business - definitely if you're a professional services business - you should start with the exact opposite position: make the answer 'yes' and then work back from 'yes' with your client to see whether 'yes' is really what they want. Along the way, that will involve exploring what your client may have to do or be willing to give up in order to get there. It may turn out that the answer is 'no', but that doesn't mean that you should decide the answer is 'no' on their behalf or at the outset.
That's not to say you shouldn't be discerning about the work that you do, the way you organise your day, how you choose to carve up your responsibilities and delegate to others when you can and it makes sense. There's a part of me that really gets the wisdom in the attached article that: "Every time you say yes to something you don't really want, you're actually saying no to the things you do." But in business, as in life, there are often moments when to really get on, you have to be unselfish and you have to make it not about you, but about the others around you, clients, family, friends. This doesn't mean you have to be a doormat or a bit of a sap, it means that you need to keep a broader perspective than just what's right for you, in that moment. Whether it's at a job interview, or a pitch meeting, knowing your audience, what they really want and what they're really thinking is vital to your ability to connect with them and make them want it to be you. And if you don't want it to be you, and you actually want to say 'no', what are you doing there in the first place?
There is a single word that I believe is more powerful than 'yes' or 'no', when it comes to success in business. It applies if you're just starting out and it stays around even when you're long-established - especially if you want to stick around and keep or even grow market share. What is that word? It's really simple:
Write it on your mirror in the morning and print it on your coffee cup at work. Keep reminding yourself every single day. Because, when you believe, that's when you launch into the right mindset to make great things happen. In the words of the seemingly unstoppable force that is Venus Williams,
"Some people say I have attitude - maybe I do... but I think you have to. You have to believe in yourself when no one else does - that makes you a winner right there."
She should know.
And when others believe in you, that's when as an individual and as a business, you generate the kind of loyalty and investment that means you should be sticking around, doing what you love, for years to come.
I realized...that I had to start saying a very, very difficult word to people, which was "no." ... When I started my business some years ago, I literally took whatever work I could get my hands on. Living in a foreign country with a family to feed, I had no choice. But as time went on, I established my brand and gained more freedom--especially in deciding which clients and jobs I wanted to focus my efforts on. And let me tell you, there's no better feeling than having that freedom... Others have touted the remarkable power of that two-letter-word. For example, Jony Ive, Apple's design chief and the man Steve Jobs once called his "spiritual partner," said that Jobs would ask him the same question almost every day: "How many times did you say no today?"