From continent to continent, country to country, business unit to business unit, one of the few things I have been able to confidently coach employees on regardless of culture and circumstances has been "The power of No!"
Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation. The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.We live with constraints, most importantly time, money, skills, knowledge and motivation. The most important thing we can do at the beginning of each day is to decide what will not get done that day. Quit chasing illusions, distractions, tactically rewarding and strategically draining activities. Focus, Focus, Focus.
Saying “no” has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know. We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. “No” is for drugs and strangers with candy.
Creators do not ask how much time something takes but how much creation it costs. This interview, this letter, this trip to the movies, this dinner with friends, this party, this last day of summer. How much less will I create unless I say “no?” A sketch? A stanza? A paragraph? An experiment? Twenty lines of code? The answer is always the same: “yes” makes less. We do not have enough time as it is. There are groceries to buy, gas tanks to fill, families to love and day jobs to do.
Yes there has to be an openness to new information and a capacity to adapt. That, though, is a simple truism and there are plenty of natural laws that steer you in that direction anyway. The thing most in your control is what not to waste your time on.
Which in turn spotlights another truism - just because it is not worth focusing on, doesn't mean that it is not important. It is important for someone to do it, but maybe not you. We are faced with innumerable attractive propositions. Pursue them all and you fail. Acknowledge your limitations in terms of time, money, skills, knowledge and motivation and you quickly have to engage with reality and the actions you take will usually be more grounded in facts and more likely to succeed. Not infrequently, achieving what you wish with the constraints under which you operate, is a great stimulus to doing things quite differently than in the past, i.e. innovation.