2199-1774012292_8cb10e3a12_m.jpgLast week, Rich Quick posted an excellent comment on this blog, talking saying “NO”. It came in the middle of the discussion of the 5 innovations of the iPad, and that Apple’s strength was by saying no to a lot of things, in order to have a stronger and more defined yes. In actual fact, MG Siegler from TechCrunch wrote the same thing yesterday.

Rich’s comment was so good, and so encapsulated the journey that I’ve been on over the last 2 years (and in particular, the last 2 months), that I’d like to share it with all of you. Consider it a lesson in “No.”

The question to ask yourself as you read is, like Apple, what should you say “no” to, so that you can “yes” to?

If you need more advice on a “strong no” when you’re done with this, then watch this video from Robin Dickinson on the subject.

How Rich Quick Learnt To Say No

By Rich Quick

It’s something I’ve discovered over the course of my business career anyway. The power of “no”.

I come from a sales background. Salespeople love the word “yes”, it makes them money.

I also trained to be a teacher – and both my parents were teachers. (Good) teachers also love to say “yes”. Yes, I can help you. Yes, you did do well on your homework.

So, “no” come unnaturally to me.

When someone asks me if I can drop my prices to help them out, I want to say “yes”.

When someone asks me to do a quick fix to their site this afternoon or work over the weekend, I want to say “yes”. (money’s money, after all).

And when they want me to do something that’s a little bit outside my expertise, like a custom CMS or some social media consultancy? I want to say “yes”, of course.

But actually, I’ve found that the more I say yes, the more likely I am to let people down.

So, someone phones me up and asks me to do a quick change to their site this afternoon. No problem, I say. But then the other project I’m working on gets pushed back.

Or I say “yeah, I’ll do a custom online shop for you”, but then there’s a problem that I’ve not come across before – because it’s outside my comfort zone – and the project ends up costing more that we’d expected and taking longer.

So I’ve actually found that “no” is often better than yes. Especially if it’s followed up by a good recommendation.

No, I can’t do a custom online shop. But let me give you the number of a company who can.

No, I can’t fit your work in this week, because that would mean pushing back another client’s work, and that would be unfair.

No, I don’t want to advise you on social media strategy. Give Scott a call instead.

It’s about managing expectations.

It’s better to keep 3 people happy, than to let down 3 people out of 5.

This is what I think Apple are doing with the iPad.

What’s better: To release an iPad that can multitask .. but keeps crashing. Or to release one that can’t multitask (yet) and never crashes?

It’s about managing expectations.

Apple don’t want to be the IT guy who says he’ll be in this afternoon and doesn’t come in for 3 days. They want to be the guy who says he can’t do it for 4 days and sticks to his word.

Photo courtesy of nicholas nova

Archived Comments

  • simstewart

    Can see where you’re coming from as I’ve a teaching and sales background also. That said, I’ve been a yes man and also a no man. Just as you can get in the habit of saying yes, so to can you start saying no more than necessary. My advice is be focused, know your strengths and weaknesses and be honest. Each opportunity is different and is often worth reflexion. Rushing is to be avoided, whether it be a yes or a no.

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    The business I work in, is utterly terrible at “no”. It was “Make our sales target, and let the delivery folks worry about the rest”. They’re now doing the right things to solve that situation. They’ve setup a group in the sales department, who looks after the product. With a very clever twist “We save money, if we do less customisation, so any development that is not re-useable we say no to”.

    That’s just the start though. We need view products through the social framework & themes that are emerging. Did anyone watch the apprentice junior finale last night? It was utterly brilliant. They had to brand bottled water. Which is an exercise in branding basically. The winning team simply called it “A bottle of water”, and created a brand “A packet of crisps” to spin off it. This fits perfectly with in the SHOQ framework.

    Simple. Human. Open & Quirky.

    Saying no allows you to stay simple. Give people what they need instead of what they want. Apple have done this brilliantly. I think I need to develop a better no! :o )

  • annholman

    Great post Scott and some pertinent points from Rich as always! Fabulous point “the more I say yes, the more likely I am to let people down.” Even though I’ve been in business over 7 years now, I still have to work hard at saying “No.” I think the more genuine, sincere and authentic you are the more this is difficult. However, stating our needs is as important as ever!

  • http://www.colourpool.com Dcave_999

    Good article, I like the idea of saying no, but I also know somethimes there is value in saying yes and then figuring out how to do the thing I may have said no to, and getting paid.

    Saying No is not the only way to manage expectations, If you have a good relationship with the client and can explain that this is the first time you are doing a certain thing and it may take a while longer. Then the expectation is set, you can learn a new skill while getting paid for it and everyone is happy.

    On a seperate note: Is that Richard Quick who is a active meber of Boag World?
    I used to speak to him about 2-3 years ago about design and accessability. Turns out the even the world is a small place after all!

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Well done, Rich. This is an important and timely message. Further to this, I would be interested in your thoughts about how to say NO as it applies to social media.

    Social media has an implicit YES, built into it.

    YES to followers.

    YES to friends.

    YES to connections, engagement.

    YES, come and join the conversation.

    Technology has magnified and enabled this YES. But as we all know – or will eventually discover, saying YES to everybody is not a strategy. It’s unsustainable – a pathway to exhaustion.

    So is NO even relevant in social media?

    If it is, how do we learn to say NO in social media? What are the practical steps?

    Best, Robin :)

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Sim

    I have to say I have a problem with saying NO – so I need to hear this.

    As I’ve been saying NO a lot more, my YES is becoming stronger.

    So this is so necessary for me!

  • / Scott Gould

    Sy – good thoughts – thank you.

    It does tie into Henry Ford’s famous quote about the faster horse. I think NO is such an important part of innovation – which is why I have some concerns over a totally open source, do all approach. I heard someone say the same thing recently, can’t remember where though.

    SHOQ is a great framework, BTW – am re-reading:-)

  • / Scott Gould

    It’s so true isn’t it. Had to be turned into a blog post.

    Thank you Rich Quick!

  • / Scott Gould

    Yes this is Rich Quick who is active on Boag World!

    I like what you say about managing expectations here. How have you learnt this lesson for yourself?


  • / Scott Gould

    Hmmm – this is VERY good. My PR 2010 framework is about guidance vs governance – which you could frame as YES vs NO. So I am contradicting myself in some ways.

    Social Media has to have a NO to turn the canon of information into a targetted point.


  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Sorry, I didn’t address my reply to you – figured you know I’m always including you, given it’s YOUR blog.

    NO, by definition is a very unpopular way forward. I get lots of unasked for negative feedback about my NO way.

    If I want to engage with you, to completely focus on you, I must say NO to someone else. The more I want my connections to grow, the more time I will need to invest, the less time I have for others. It’s simple maths. Why not call it, plan for it – make it transparent.

    Robin :)

  • / Scott Gould

    Correction: it is OUR blog :-)

    Focus, non-multi-tasking… I’m learning!

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Yes, that’s an outstanding distinction! :)

  • richquick

    Yep, it’s the same Rich.

    Could be the world’s small or it could be I’ve just got a big mouth!!


  • richquick

    One thing I’ve been told I’m very generous with, in real life, is my time.

    If someone calls or emails asking for some advice I’ll always give it, no matter whether they’re a big-shot social media guru like Scott ;o) or a 13 year old wanting to get into web design.

    I try to apply that rule online too. If someone asks me for some information or advice, I’ll try to help.

    I’ve found this has benefits other than just spiritual ones. The 16 year olds I helped out a few years ago are 22 now and working for web design agencies, and it doesn’t hurt to be the guy who gave them work experience or advice when they were younger.

    Now, all of this is a “yes”.

    Where I think the “no” comes in is in what you say to people.

    It’s easy to tell people what they want to hear. But I always try to be honest in my advice and comments. If I think something’s a crap idea I’ll say so and explain why.

    So, for example, I’ve had a lot of people ask me for advice over the years on their idea for an online business.

    I’ve got no investment or commitment in their idea, so it would be easy to just say “yes” it’s a good idea, go for it, because it’s not my time or money they’re wasting.

    But sometimes, that’s not what people need to hear. Sometimes, “No – I don’t think that will work” is better.

    Same goes for career advice. Should I go to uni to study web design? “Yes, sure do it” might be what they want to hear but “Actually, I don’t rate most uni web design courses – so if you’re going for the social life then great, but it won’t help your career as much as 3 years working for a good agency” – which is basically a qualified “no” – might be better for them in the long term.

    Now, not everyone will agree or take that advice, which is great, but at least if they go to uni and leave a year later because they were being taught Dreamweaver 2 then it makes their trust in my opinions that much greater, and it means that they’re more likely to listen to me or be influenced by me in future.

    The “no” might take the form of “have you thought about this instead”.

    Tweet: I’m going freelance but need to do my accounts – should I go for Quickbooks or Sage?

    Reply: Have you thought about something like Freshbooks or Freeagent? Much cheaper and easier to use.

    And also, obviously .. advising people to say “no” themselves.

  • richquick

    I think it’s a bit like being tidy.

    It’s possible to be too obsessed with being tidy, to the point where it affects your life.

    Likewise, it’s possible to be too lazy, and never clean up after yourself.

    I think more people fall under the “too lazy, could do more housework” bracket than the “too tidy, need to chill out” bracket, which is why you have programs like “How Clean is Your House” but not ones called “Stop tidying you clean freak.”

    I think it’s similar with Yes and No. Too much of either is bad, but I think more people struggle with saying “no” than struggle with saying “yes”.

  • simstewart

    Yes Rich, I like this analogy and would agree that more people have problems saying no. In our house we could do with some ‘stop tidying you clean freak’ therapy, especially now the World Cup is starting :)

  • http://www.rosagarriga.net Rosa Garriga

    Excellent post Scott! This is a mistake so many people do (saying yes), in my opinion because of FEAR…
    When thinking about saying yes or no, I guess you just have to think about your ultimate goal in life, and see whether that job, person, whatever it is, brings you closer to the goal or not.
    I recently read in an interview to Philippe Starck that they reject almost 90% of all the offers they get…

  • Thedivinemisswhite

    An interesting post, and message I’ve heard time and time again from Robin Dickinson.

    My question is for Scott:

    How do you reconcile your own position as a practising Christian, (which preaches a YES Message) with Robin Dickinson’s & Rich’s NO position?

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Rosa

    Thanks for the comments and honesty. Philippe Starck’s thing is so true.

    I heard once that “Elegance is refusal” – refusal to anything not at the standard.

    I agree.

    Scott :-)

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Catherine,

    That is an exceptional, searching question. Very nice :-)

    Jesus said “no” a lot. His parables also are of full of strong NOs, but also strong YESs.

    I think the perception that we have of Christianity now as a ‘yes’ message is in two elements; first of inclusive, which is right and good, and is what Jesus did. The second element is weakness and a fear to say no – which Jesus wasn’t in anyway.

    I think the key again comes back to saying NO to something, in order to saying YES to something better. Ultimately, I guess, NO to Sin, and YES to a better life.

    Good question :-)

  • http://www.rosagarriga.net Rosa Garriga

    I like this quote!

    Here’s another one that Paulo Coelho has just tweeted: ‘If you want to say “no”, say it. “Maybe” is for people who are afraid to commit’.

  • / Scott Gould

    I like that!

  • http://www.experienceengineer.com/ Erik Posthuma

    Great post and so applicable to career and management as well. For the longest time I found myself saying yes to so many things. The people I was saying yes to did not communicate to each other so when I delivered something sub par or past the deadline they would think: “That work could have been better.” I was thinking, yes, it could have been better and I could have gotten it to you quicker, BUT you don’t see me working on all these other things.

    I work differently now due to two major changes; focus and communication.


    I carry a laminated manifesto in my pocket that has 16 goals on there that I will reach by the end of 2010. These goals are divided into five categories which include myself, my family/friends, career etc. As an example, one of my goals is: “Work out 3 times a week.” Next to this goal I have check boxes which I can mark once I have reached my goal for that week. This has sharpened my focus incredibly.


    I found myself in the past thinking NO, feeling NO, and knowing that the answer should be NO and still communicate YES. Or worse, sometimes I would not communicate at all. My laminated manifesto has a line on there that reminds me every day: “Focus, details, and communicate.” It’s about communicating your true capabilities. This is still an area I am working on though your following statement really jump starts me again: “As I’ve been saying NO a lot more, my YES is becoming stronger.”

    Great post! Oh and btw, where can I read up this SHOQ post?

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Erik

    Thanks for the comment. This is really helpful. I like your framework:

    FOCUS. We do need those aids to keep us focussed. How are you finding this manifesto is working?

    COMMUNICATION. I’ve been getting better at this too – not expecting everyone to know what is locked up in my head!

    These are great examples – might have to do a post with this comment in, and maybe discuss the hacks that we all use to focus and communicate.

    The SHOQ framework is by Mr. Sy Taylor above, he sent me his proposal on it. I don’t know if he has posted it online actually!

  • http://www.experienceengineer.com/ Erik Posthuma

    Hi Simon,

    Just sent you an email!

  • NC Smith

    I’ve been meaning to get around to this post ever since I saw the title in Twitter.

    Can I add a twist to the conversation?

    Saying “no” in the right place & time is about strength of character. As a business, when you’re dealing with clients/customers, saying “no” can be the greatest form of service that you may offer. (as others here have already identified.) But it does take a certain strength to displease a client, even if you know in the long run you’re providing the better service.

    My quick answer to Robin’s “Why is Apple successful” post (which I haven’t posted on his site, shame on me) is Apple’s ability to say “no” to what it is not, thereby allowing them to continue to excel at what they are. (This also gets into leadership, wherein the general has so well described to his lieutenants what they are, that they can carry on the general’s wishes without consulting the general)

    However, there’s another very important time and place to say no, and that’s when ethics are concerned. Inevitably there will be instances when you’re asked to look the other way, or even partake, in practices that aren’t exactly kosher. Maybe it’s simply continuing to work for a boss whom you know to be unethical, because inevitably you know your reputation will be compromised. Sometimes “no” means taking a tremendous personal risk, or turning down a potentially fantastic opportunity, but is the only way to stay true to your ethical self.

    (My question to anyone: Would you work for a boss you know to be unethical, even if he never asked you to compromise your ethics? Would you enter a venture with someone you know to be unethical, even if you’re protected, and your integrity will not be compromised? Have you ever failed to say no when you should have? Can you speak to personal experience where you said “no” on principle and suffered the costs?)

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Nate

    Good thoughts – I think they play right into what we have been discussing and I’d like to chat more.

    I’m off to Helsinki now, so will get fuller thoughts back to you next week!