I have witnessed myself transition from my early years as an entrepreneur, as someone who would say ‘yes’ to everything, to someone who has slowly started saying ‘no’ to more and more meetings, opportunities and functions.
At one level, this is the right thing to do. There is a well-known saying that states that we are defined more by the things that we say no to than those that we say yes to, and this is true until we find ourselves saying ‘no’ to everything.
From a systems theory point of view, systems remain healthy if ‘fresh information’ is integrated into the system, and closed systems, without the continuous flow of fresh information, ultimately die. I can apply this theory to my own business practice — the more I say ‘yes’, the more access I have to ‘fresh information’, and the more that I say ‘no’, the more I close myself and my business off to opportunity.
One day, I had an out-of-body experience, watching myself say ‘no’ to what, just a few years earlier, would have been an opportunity that I would have given my right arm for. I had become too cynical, too critical, and probably too complacent.
The saying that we are defined by the things we say ‘no’ to served as a comforter and excuse, allowing me to ignore the opportunity without any feeling of guilt. However, in the same meeting I changed my mind and told the shocked entrepreneur, who was sitting in front of me, that I was willing to give it a try.
Although that particular opportunity did not result in a successful outcome, it was this failed opportunity that exposed me to an even bigger opportunity, which was an enormous success and a massive contribution to Raizcorp’s strategic direction.
As I look back to that time, I am grateful that I became cynical early on in my entrepreneurial journey, and was able to extract myself from the milieu of the convenience of so easily being able to say ‘no’.
The rule I share with those I mentor, and adhere to myself, is to listen to every opportunity and every conversation with an open mind, and with an opening mindset of ‘yes’, only to become a ‘no’ should the logic not stack, the values not match or the return on effort not be suitably high.
Logic Must Stack
In order to say ‘yes’ to start a journey toward an opportunity, listen carefully for the logic. If something doesn’t make sense, ask questions until it does and if, after exhaustive questioning, the opportunity still does not make sense logically, it’s okay to say ‘no’.
Values Must Match
If the opportunity presented makes logical sense but contradicts your personal values, or if, in order to exploit the opportunity, you feel that the people with whom you need to work also do not match your values, it is alright to say ‘no’.
Return on Effort Must be High
When the logic stacks, and the values match, but the level of effort required relative to the return generated is low, it’s also okay to say ‘no’. Many opportunities, when properly scrutinised, require an enormous amount of effort to precipitate the opportunity and, once precipitated, the opportunity only produces relatively low returns.
In a time-starved and opportunity-rich environment, always choose opportunities that have the highest return relative to the effort.
While saying ‘yes’ implies bold promise, it’s important to remember that, if the logic stacks, the values match, and the return on effort is suitably high, the opportunity promises massive contribution to the success and strategic direction of your business. I encourage entrepreneurs to say ‘YES!’ and approach the opportunity as a system that needs fresh information to remain healthy, operational and sustainable.