Just say ‘No’ – the key to focus

‘Focus is about saying No.’ This was Steve Jobs’ most memorable quote from his first public appearance on his return to the helm at Apple in 1997, when he’d spent the previous six months cutting and focusing the Apple product line – returning the company to profitability, and providing a framework to develop the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and so on.

‘No’ is an acceptable answer, particularly when working on the early stages of a project and ideas are flying round – it preserves the purity of a vision, and the focus of a team.

When a team is trying to generate ideas, brainstorming theory tells us that criticism should be withheld when we’re trying to come up with as many ideas as possible, but once a project has moved into the ‘what are we actually going to do?’ stage, the use of ‘No’ needs to come to the fore.

‘Yes’ is ambiguous; it can mean anything.

It can mean ‘I’ll try.’

It can mean ‘Maybe, unless I think of something more important.’

Often it can mean ‘It’s easier for me to agree with you than to have a debate, but I’m not actually going to do anything.’

‘Yes’ means each party to the conversation comes away with their own view of what was said, based on what they want to hear.

‘Yes’ is the curse of the committee – if no-one says ‘No’, any decisions that get made are passive at best, and if ‘yes’ is the default answer, priorities will proliferate, consequently there will be no priority; no focus.

Clearly ‘Yes’ can mean ‘Absolutely. Let’s do this.’ But we know immediately if someone is giving us this rarest of responses from the visual cues they’re too excited to hide.

‘No’ is unambiguous, clear, and definite.

‘No’ is sometimes uncomfortable to say, but usually respected.

‘No’ cuts abstraction, complexity, illusions of agreement, and most importantly: time.

Start today. Start with something you’ve said ‘Yes’ to, but which you’re not going to do.

Just say ‘No’ – it’ll change your life for the better.