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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Usman Sheikh

Founder and CEO

xiQ, Inc.

Usman Sheikh is the Founder and CEO of xiQ, Inc. Prior to founding xiQ, Usman was a Vice President with SAP, SE where he had first-hand experience with ABM and B2B Sales. Usman has worked in over 40 countries and lived in Singapore, Germany, and the United States. Currently, he resides in the Silicon Valley, San Francisco Bay Area.