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Technology & Innovation

Want to Be Successful? Learn to Say “No.”

The author of a new book about the habits of successful creative people explains why rebuffing, rebutting, and straight up just saying “no” will fuel your endeavors.

“Time is the raw material of creation,” writes tech pioneer Kevin Ashton, who — among his many other accomplishments — is famous for first coining the term “the Internet of Things,” which is something you’ve probably heard of. In his new book, How to Fly a Horse  —  The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery, Ashton explores the creative process and the many things that made history’s greatest creators tick. Surprise, surprise: it wasn’t all just alcohol and cigarettes.

As Ashton notes, one of the key cogs of being a successful creator is knowing when to respond to requests with a simple, terse “no.” The same goes for innovators, researchers, and anyone else operating to solve problems by trial and error. Being creative requires extensive time and even more extensive effort. Thus, time wasted is effort wasted, which can severely bite into your productivity. Ashton recounts a popular story of a Hungarian psychologist who reached out to interview hundreds of successful creators only to be surprised by how many of them rebuffed him. Ashton draws from this tale three main points:

1. Creative successes didn’t get that way by playing video games half the time. Overnight successes are rare. Up-all-night successes are less so. Creation is the result of obsession.

2. Saying “no” is a protection of your time, which is incredibly valuable in pursuit of your goals. Committing to “no” is also an acknowledgement of how highly you value those goals. If you really value being creative, you need to prove it by acting as such.

3. If time is the raw material of creativity, “creation” is the currency of creativity. Creators have to assess the creation value of every decision they make. Will agreeing to do something result in more creation? Usually not. Most of the time, saying “no” allows for more creation. If giving an interview or catching the latest Transformers flick doesn’t offer much in the way of creation (and trust me, they don’t), it makes little sense to invest your creative raw materials in those realms.

The basic idea here is that giving too much of yourself and your time over to other people at their request will scuttle your creative endeavors. The most successful creators throughout history all said “no” at the right time and the world has, for the better part, benefitted because they did. I encourage you to take a look at Ashton’s full piece (linked below) for more on this particular subject, as well as check out his book for more on the nature of successful creativity.

Read more at Business Insider.

Photo credit: Djomas / Shutterstock


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