The Fast No

There is nothing that beats a fast “no”. Doesn’t matter what language, what circumstance, what context — a fast “no” is the greatest gift to receive.

Don’t mistake a fast no with every other type of “no” that is used. There is the “no, but” <– NOT a fast no. What about “not now”? Nope. Not a fast no. Anything without a concrete, 2-letter, hard end or anything remotely sounding optimistic is absolutely, 100% NOT a fast no.

So why is a fast no such a gift? How can that little word, usually the first one out of toddlers mouth or the thing you yell at your dog to stop bitting strangers, be a good thing?

Two reasons.

The first is obvious. It’s the end of a line of conversation. If you’ve ever tried to raise any kind of venture financing you know that VCs are notoriously vague with their answers. Only the good VCs that know and follow their investment thesis say no quickly. The rest string you along for fear of missing something — anything — that pops. They want to keep their options open. Often you’ll hear “let us know when you find a lead” <– that’s a “no”. Or, you’ll hear “circle back with me in a month” <– NO! The fear of that little word is real and sometimes you need it to move on.

The second reason is not so obvious. A fast no is sometimes the real start of the conversation. If someone can say “no” it means they have a line and you are on the other side of that line. A fast no means they can define why “no” makes sense for them. This is glorious. It means you can ask why they said no. It there truly isn’t a fit you are liberated. You are free to move on. There is no more baggage, no follow ups, no awkward emails or calls. But sometimes there IS a fit and the “no” helps clear up any confusion or misconception. Yup, “no” can be a conversation starter. I’ve seen it happen. Often.

Getting to a fast no takes courage from you. YOU need to be able to give the other side the permission to say it. At the end of every optimistic investment pitch or sales call I like to ask a variation of the “asshole” question (nicely, of course): Do you see a fit here? Can we work together? Does this fit your business/investment requirements? We often don’t want to hear no so we avoid asking for it.

Getting to a “no” is a gift — often AS valuable as a “yes” — but anything in between is pure anguish.

Love the work.

I love working. I love that feeling when you know you are contributing to building something greater than just you. Call it work ethic or elbow grease or being reliable — call it whatever you want — but doing the work is what makes me happy.

This wasn’t always the case. I was a terrible student because I didn’t want to do the work. I scraped by with marginal marks the entire time I was in school. I remember the exact moment where I realized effort did not equate to success at school. It was grade 5 math and my teacher said she was generous and gave me a 50 for the term. It was crushing and I explained that I had really made an effort that term and I had. She said that my effort is why she gave be a passing grade but it didn’t necessarily translate into good marks.

I really learned to work when I started my first company. There was no hiding from it then. The need to eat and live under a roof made for enough motivation to put the work in. As most entrepreneurs know, having to run a business and be the business takes an incredible amount of focus and dedication. As Springsteen says, “he don’t work and he don’t get paid.” That forces you to learn to work.

I levelled up again at my work game when I had twin boys. There is no escaping the amount of effort it takes to raise a child but two at the same time means you have to suck it up and get to work. Whatever I thought work was before kids, I was wrong and I needed to get more done in the same time. This is where you really have to love the work or it will beat you down. You need to balance the job of the job, the responsibility of the parent and the commitment to your spouse. An imbalance in any of those and the whole system is off.

There is a lot of wasted space in work. It is this wasted space that makes people hate the work. It can happen when you aren’t focused on doing the right things because of a lack of direction or instruction. It will happen if you don’t like what you are doing. It does happen if you don’t understand the game you are playing and how to win at it. All of these things zap your energy and work becomes work.

As an entrepreneur you can always find things that need to be done but you’ve got to love the grind or you will get tired quickly. As I moved up in my work life into more senior roles I realized that I missed the work. I love being a leader but I love being a leader that contributes by rolling up my sleeves and getting involved. It’s an example I want to set for my kids that despite a title and the prestige that comes with it, you have to work hard to make a meaningful contribution.

You have to love to work or the work eats you up.