There's Power In The Word 'No' And We're Messing It Up

There's Power In The Word 'No' And We're Messing It Up

Create June 18, 2018 / By Larry Robertson
There's Power In The Word 'No' And We're Messing It Up

No can be a powerful creative force, but you've got to allow it to be the right kind

“No,” as in the response ‘no’ is a natural variable in life, and especially in creativity. Everything cannot be a green light, and not ever idea should get one. In this context, ‘no’ is actually a good thing. Increasingly, however, ‘no’ is taking on a decidedly negative meaning – and ‘no’, it’s not a good thing. 

Turn on your phone, turn on your television, or just tune into public discourse and it’ll hit you quick, hard, and inflexibly. The kind of ‘no’ that seems exponentially on the rise is a creativity killer. And when creativity goes, an end to progress quickly follows. Is this one-sided extreme natural? No. Nature abhors a vacuum, the kind left by the ‘no’ increasingly justified not only as okay, but sometimes, or so it frighteningly seems, preferred.  

In the not too distant past, ‘no’ simply meant, “I disagree.” There is nothing wrong with disagreement. Disagreement can be a powerful force for considering other options. ‘No’ when used to signify disagreement can guide us to, “What else might we consider?” It can seed, “What haven’t we tried? or “What might we do if we just looked at things just a bit differently?” ‘No’ is an important ingredient, a facilitator to other ways, a pause to reconsider why and how we arrived at an inflection point, a downshift that allows us to pass into neutral and hopefully out to a more appropriate gear. No if this endangered kind is actually a powerful catalytic force in creativity.

Does ‘no’ of any kind always move us smoothly to and through these possibilities? Hardly. ‘No’ can feel truly negative. ‘No’ can sting. ‘No’ can sound final. When it does feel or sound like any of these things we drift steadily even quickly towards the fruitlessness form of ‘no’, the closed kind, the progress-impeding variety, the decidedly uncreative version of ‘no’.

What we’ve drifted into, and deeply as of late, is a belief that ‘no’ is a negative full stop. Ironically, we sometimes appear to believe that's a positive thing – some form of finality with a false clarity we convince ourselves is preferable to uncertainty, no matter how bad the position in which we leave ourselves or others. In truth it’s progress we all hunger for, but this isn’t how we get it.

Actually progress does not come from any form of ‘no’. Progress is governed by what we do with and after ‘no’. Progress is in our mindset, our ideas, and our actions. And ‘we’ means everyone, those that occupy both sides or an idea or issue, not just one or the other. Pick your filter – psychology, negotiations, sociology, common sense. No matter how you thoughtfully assess it, deep inside you know that forward progress and any reward that comes with it cannot occur in an environment of constant and stationary ‘no’. It can only come through a change in the dynamic and the language that leads us back to exploration and discourse, the best coming in the form questions: What’s causing this impasse? What have we not considered? What the hell we’re we after in the first place and why? Could we arrive it more productively, more creatively together? I’ll limit myself to only answering that last question – yes. There’s ‘no’ doubt about it.


Larry Robertson is the author of two award-winning books: ‘The Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity’ and ‘A Deliberate Pause: Entrepreneurship and its Moment in Human Progress’. He’s the founder of two ventures, one for-profit and one non, and a highly respected thought leader in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship, advising individuals and organizations across a broad spectrum. Larry is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and a former Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

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