In previous posts I’ve discussed curiosity as one of the fundamental pillars of being a great leader. The only way to continue to learn is by constantly seeking out novel experiences that expose you to different perspectives and ideas, and cultivating boundless curiosity is a great way to do that. The easiest way to fuel and feed curiosity is by saying “yes” to everything.
The great thing about saying yes is that it often triggers a chain reaction. You say yes to go to a conference or a party or an event. There, you say yes to meeting new people. They, in turn, invite you to other events, or ask you to collaborate on something, and you say yes, which turns into something else. And on it goes. For each yes, you get countless more opportunities to say yes. You should particularly jump at the chance to say yes to things you normally wouldn’t, perhaps to attend something you don’t know anything about, or meet with people who don’t necessarily share the same opinions as you, or go to something alone where you don’t already know anyone there. This doesn’t only allow you to grow your network and experiences, it will also lead you to places to push you out of your comfort zone and into new territory you haven’t yet explored. Staying insular and only orbiting around the same groups of people who validate your world view constrains your ability to see the larger picture and striving to be well-rounded will allow you to be a leader who has the context to represent and take into account all people.
Saying yes is also a motivating tool to be more proactive. When you see an opportunity to write an article, or volunterring yourself to speak at a conference, going after those things is another way of saying “yes” by putting yourself forward, even if you’re not directly being asked. Don’t only wait for opportunities to say yes to come to you, seek them out for yourself.
The first rule of performing improv is that you always have to say “yes, and?” The philosophy behind this is that when you negate your improv partner and say no, instead of yes, you kill the forward momentum. Instead, you need to accept whatever reality is put forth by your partner, no matter how crazy, and then build upon it. Most of us have had the frustrating experience of having a boss who loves to say “no.” Think about the stifling feeling that no creates and how it affected your motivation to bring new ideas in the future. Like saying yes to everything, adding the “and?” allows you to also grow that idea and see where it goes. This isn’t only great for you, it’s also great for the people you are working with because it gives their ideas room to be heard and explored.
Approaching things in the positive instead of the negative can often feel like a risk. It’s much easier and safer to say no, since when you say no, generally that means nothing needs to change, it maintains the comfortable status quo. But think about where “no” leads you – nowhere.
Hopefully this goes without saying, but it’s important to state regardless, that there are obvious times where it is important to say no – especially around your safety or at the expense of your self-care. Every person has a different threshold, so use your common sense and gut check, and say no in those situations.
But on the whole, err on the side of “yes!” and see where it takes you. Why not?