Saying No to Get to Yes


The most significant eye-opener of my career (thus far) was from a 360 degree report I received five years ago in which I solicited feedback from clients, colleagues, friends and family. It turns out I was falling short on key commitments on account of being overcommitted. Through my desire to say yes to too many people and things, I was breaking promises to the people closest to me. Was that my intent? No. Was that the impact? Yes. An intervention was clearly needed. Or at the very least, a crash course in how to say no gracefully. Fortunately, at about the same time I was introduced to the work of Jim Collins, author of ‘Good to Great’. The idea that rescued me then, and has since evolved into one of my favorite coaching tools, is the Hedgehog Concept. According to Collins, the greatest organizations maintain a “piercing clarity” regarding what they are passionate about, what they are best at doing, and what feeds their bottom line. Any option that doesn’t meet these three criteria fails the Hedgehog Test and is removed from consideration. Through exercising this decision-making discipline, great companies stay focused on what is most essential to their productivity and don't succumb to the glitter of Fool’s Gold.

I have found the Hedgehog Concept to be hugely helpful on the individual level, both personally and professionally. What do I care about most deeply? What plays to my strengths? What feeds me financially and/or energetically? And, finally, in what areas do all three components overlap?

By getting crystal clear on the answers to these questions I am able to sort out the tempting but distracting choices that come my way. Most of the interesting opportunities that present themselves usually pass two of the questions (especially the passion one) but rarely all three.

This brief video gives an example of using the Hedgehog Concept to say no.

My counter-intuitive learning this last half decade has been more precious than gold: the more I say no, the more I am fully saying yes to the people and missions to which I truly do want to commit.

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