The Power of “NO”

Feb 19th, 2010 | By | Category: Featured, management

In one of the forums that you are prone to catch me poking in, I saw a question that was posed about the edge that certain consulting companies have in the market.  When a dumb ass from XXX Hi flying consulting company says “do it”, it usually gets done while his more humble counterpart, who ekes out a meager living working for the client of the consulting company, would not even get a passing nod from the powers that be. “Why is this the case?” mused the questioner.

Among the multitude of answers that came in response to this question, one answer stood out. The responder basically said that the consulting companies with the most amount of credibility learn to say “NO” at the appropriate time. They build their credibility when their NO gets proven to be correct and from that credibility stems this reaffirmed faith that they can afford to say “NO” when it makes sense.

Before you think that I am smoking something undesirable and am rambling on the wayside, let me jump into the main theme of this post. We all must learn to say “NO” when it does not make sense. It can be a NO to nonsensical software development time lines. It can be a NO to the use of worthless software products that in the long run give us heartaches. It can be a NO to using  shortcuts in software development. It can be a NO to the “having a baby in one month with 9 mothers syndrome”. It can be a NO to practically anything unreasonable, arbitrary and anything else based on unfounded assumptions.

The management may initially not appreciate the veto. But as we get proven right, the credibility grows and our decisiveness increases growing on what it feeds.  This is probably the best upwardly mobile path for a technologist. The ability to make decisions at the correct time and at the correct level of granularity is the most desired attribute for a leader. We all look for leaders who tell us what to do rather than spending the bulk of their lives vacillating and re-considering options. This ability to say “NO” is the final signature of the leader. And if a hard core technologist desires to be in charge of strategic decision making, then the occasional push back is required. Obviously, I am not trying to shower praises on the eternal devil’s advocates or those who emit negativity with their actions. All I am saying here is that it is as incumbent on a leader to dissent at the appropriate time for the appropriate cause as it is for him to steer the organization on the correct course. Often the former is tightly tied to the latter.

This makes more sense especially in today’s context. With the economy being how it is, many companies are more tempted than ever to chase revenue and, in the process, let common sense take the much cliched backseat. This strategy might pay dividends in the near term but would set the company up for failure in the long term. For instance, don’t take on a project when you have doubts about your ability to staff it successfully. Don’t try delivering a hundred things when you know that you would not be able to do so given your resource constraints. These negative decisions may seemingly hurt in the short term but would make you that much more credible in the long term.  As I see it, naysaying (for the correct cause) and building credibility go hand in hand sometimes. In short, He who knows when to say “No”  has the ability to nose ahead of his competition.


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 Raja has been blogging in this forum since 2006. He loves a technical discussion any day. He finds life incomplete without a handy whiteboard and a marker.

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