In business, much credit is given to the power of “yes.”

When we talk about success, we talk about having a “can do” attitude. We talk about being open to new ideas. We’re encouraged to say yes to opportunity.

On the surface, this sounds like a great idea. Positive attitude. Positive outcome. In fact, there’s plenty of research showing that a positive attitude is good for morale and health.

But are there times when “no” is a better ally?

Saying yes to too many things can derail your focus, diminish your energy, and dilute your effectiveness.

Legendary Apple designer Jony Ive illustrated this concept perfectly in a recent conversation with Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter at the magazine’s New Establishment Summit held in San Francisco (Oct. 5-7). At the event, which brought together titans of technology, politics, business and media, Ive talked about life lessons learned from working with Steve Jobs. One of them was the power of no in achieving laser focus.

Ive describes Jobs as “the most remarkably focused person I’ve ever met in my life.”

According to Ive, Jobs achieved that remarkable level of focus through a consistent and disciplined tactic of saying no to anything that might take the focus away from the immediate goal. Even when he wanted to say yes.

“What focus means is saying no to something you think is a phenomenal idea, but you say no to it because you’re focusing on something else.“

That doesn’t mean ignoring good ideas. It means not allowing them to distract you from the good idea you’re already committed to.

“Focus is not something you aspire to,” Ive said. ”It is an every minute, why are we talking about this? This is what we’re working on.”

Jobs would test Ive’s focus by regularly asking, “How many things have you said no to today?”

It’s easy to see the power of no in the simplicity and beauty of Apple’s design and function. That power is also evident in good writing, a strong business pitch, a targeted strategy, anywhere that less is more. It’s been said that knowing what to leave out is as important as knowing what to leave in. That’s just another facet of knowing when to say no.

Saying yes feels good. Staying on task, on time, and on target feels even better. How many things will you say no to today?


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About The Author

Usman Sheikh

Founder and CEO

xiQ, Inc.

Usman Sheikh is the visionary founder and CEO of xiQ, an award-winning B2B sales and marketing platform. Through the fusion of generative AI, behavioral science, and ChatGPT, xiQ is revolutionizing the industry with its personality-driven sales approach.
As a futurist and design thinker, Usman aims to humanize B2B sales and marketing by leveraging generative AI and psychology. With xiQ, sellers can understand the mindset of prospective buyers and hyper-personalize engagement at every stage of the sales cycle.
Before xiQ, Usman held various global roles at SAP, including Vice President of Corporate Development, Product Management, Sales Enablement, and Digital Commerce.
Usman frequently serves as a guest lecturer on AI and B2B sales and marketing at renowned business schools such as the University of Texas, University of Wisconsin, University of Alabama, Louisiana State University, and Clemson University.
A graduate of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Usman’s diverse passions extend beyond business. He enjoys Squash, architecture, design, cooking, and hiking.