I doubt that any of us need to read another article about saying “no,” but I would like to argue that we all could benefit from reconsidering the power of saying “yes.”
While I was building my business I had the privilege of working as a freelance journalist. It’s one of those jobs, like waiting tables, that I did so I could make ends meet, but looking back I’ve found was an invaluable education that I draw upon in my business now. Some of the stories stick with you, and even become a part of your story, such is true of Ettore “Eddie” Chiudionni.
He was a local musician and educator, but really he was so much more. He was a catalyst for dreams in a town where many have forgotten the magic of believing in impossible things.
I never knew him when he was alive, but I was tasked with telling his story when he died. In doing so I’ve found that part of his legacy lives on in me.
What will people say about you when you’re gone?
Whenever someone dies the natural human thing to do is pause and reflect on their own life and legacy. People sometimes act as if that is a characteristic of those who are more advanced in years, but I’ve found that regardless of age we all do this.
As I researched the story I increasingly regretted having never known him, but even more so realized I wasn’t the kind of person that he was.
Nearly every person I spoke to described a man who viewed people and their pursuits from a set point of possibility. Over and over I heard about a man who always said, “yes,” to everything. Not in the sense of over-committing, but rather his default was optimism, encouragement, and support.
While I’ve always endeavored to be positive and encouraging, and I’d like to see myself that way, deep down I knew that more than once I’d been naysayer.
So what does that look like?
Eddie Chiudionni’s students grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, but many of them went on to successful and prestigious careers in classical music. I’m sure you can imagine that not everyone would believe it is possible for a kid from Mansfield, Ohio, or anywhere else for that matter, to make a living as an opera singer for example. The truth is that most people discourage young people from pursuing such far-fetched dreams.
Did every person he encouraged become a star? No, but imagine how many fewer musical talents would hail from Mansfield, Ohio if not for him. No doubt he encountered lots of untalented people and truly bad ideas, but as best I can tell, he didn’t take it upon himself to say so.
Saying yes in business
What does that have to do with you and your business? The short answer–EVERYTHING. Whether in a sales meeting, or training an employee there are countless times throughout the day when we could say “yes” or “no” to any number of things. While our previous experiences, knowledge, and even good common sense, might make us inclined to put the brakes on, I’d like to caution you to consider “yes” more seriously.
First of all, saying “yes” is necessary to innovation. There is no innovation without an openness to possibility and a willingness to take risks. Second, I don’t care who you are, you aren’t so smart that you can’t learn from somebody else. And finally, it’s always wise to operate from a mindset of abundance and possibility.
How it works for me
In addition to my marketing agency I also own a business called Tog Loft. At Tog Loft we provide space, education, and community to photographers, many of whom are entrepreneurs.
There are so many times when I think I could help a photographer and save them from some disaster by telling them, “no” to an idea that I believe will get in the way of their success, or maybe even lead to failure. What I’ve learned is to channel my inner Eddie Chiudionni.
Countless times I’ve watched a photographer spend money they don’t have on expensive photography gear that they don’t need. More often than not I see people buying stuff rather than putting in the work required to learn to be a better photographer.
For a long time when people asked my opinions on purchases I told them what I thought they “needed to hear.” I’d say, “You don’t need a camera, you need to put in the hours shooting and look at your work with a critical eye, and challenge yourself to do more, and better.”
Guess what? Every single time I had that conversation people bought the camera. Furthermore, most of those people probably discovered that I was right. Their photography didn’t really improve.
They also didn’t come back to Tog Loft to learn what they needed to learn, which means we lost them as a customer. I imagine that they likely felt discouraged, and I no doubt planted that seed of discouragement.
More than tactical unsolicited advice I’ve found that photographers need someone in their corner cheering them on. Failure is a critical part of the process of learning, business, and life, and my role is to be there and say “yes” when everyone else is saying, “no.”
Now when people want to buy expensive gear I say, “Cool, you’ll be able to do amazing things with that camera.” Invariably they learn on their own how hard it is to do those amazing things, but now they know I’m here to help so they come back through my door when they are ready to learn.
What to say yes to
Absolutely say no when appropriate, but here are some times to consider saying yes:
New ideas: When someone has an idea, even if you think it’s terrible, just consider the possibility. Listening to and entertaining an idea doesn’t mean you have to execute it.
Different perspectives: So you’re a conservative, or a liberal, maybe you’re vegan, or religious, or an atheist–whatever the case may be, you believe what you believe for a reason, and that’s great. That doesn’t mean you get to say no to everything that doesn’t align with your way of looking at the world. Welcome and say “yes” to another way of looking at the world.
Dreams and Big Ideas: I’d like to challenge you to shift your thinking and live as if nothing is impossible. When someone is brave enough to believe in something that others view as impossible applaud it, even if you have your doubts. Everything that has ever been accomplished was once impossible, and then someone had the audacity to do it.
Kindness: If something is kind it is always worth considering. In our ever-connected world people increasingly face cruelty, injustice, and indifference. Whenever you have the opportunity say yes to kindness. The dividends are immeasurable.