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In Praise of “No, But”

“No, But” has gotten a bad rap lately.

We’ve heard a lot about the magic of Yes.  The phenomenal power of Yes, AndTina Fey and Amy Poehler both discussed these principles of improv theatre in their recent memoirs, principles which can indeed be revolutionary in work, in parenting, in life.

Today, though, I’d like to give some respect to “No, But.”  It can be just as transformative in your life and work.  All it requires is a slight shift in your thinking about your professional and personal networks.

Let’s say someone contacts me about an opportunity.  In my case, let’s say a producer I love to work for sends me a book assignment.  Great, right?  Well, hang on a second.  What if the role requires an accent that I don’t think I could sustain for a full-length audiobook?  What should I do?

You might say well, just say yes, and then figure it out.  And of course I could do that, but is that really what is best for the author and her book?  And am I going to do work that I can point to with pride, with only a week to acquire a totally new skill set?  When I start feeling like the miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin, it’s never a good sign.

I could’ve just said no, sorry, I can’t take on this assignment.  The producer would go back to the pool of actors he usually works with and I’d go on prepping my next book.  The interaction would be over, sad trombone playing in the distance, wah wah.  Happens all the time, I suppose, but this day was different.

I didn’t say no.  I said No, But I think I know someone who would be great.  Through online and in-person professional networks, I’ve gotten to be friends with another narrator who is brilliant at the very accent the book called for.  I got the producer in touch with her, and not only did she get the job, she knocked it out of the park and has earned well-deserved critical acclaim for her work.  How cool is that?

So here’s the thing.

Too often we think of networks only in terms of what they might do for us.  Consider, though, what happens when we pay attention to the individuals in our networks, what they do, what they know, what they need, where they’ve been.  When we let those networks grow organically over time and get to know people beyond business cards and elevator pitches.

If we look at our networks as giant pools of shared talent, we never really have to say No again.

We have the privilege and joy of helping people find their way to the right Yes.

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