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

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

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.


 is the author of two award-winning books:
Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity
’ and
Deliberate Pause: Entrepreneurship and its Moment in Human
. 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

Tags: creative
, creativity, ideas, larry
, openness, rejection

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