No, Thank You

We were taught as little kids that the most powerful words in the English language are "please" and "thank you." When used with regularity all those years ago, these simple words seemed to help me stay in the good graces of those around me today.

Equally as powerful, but not as often promoted, is the inverse: "No, thank you." Very often, the best we can strive for is to avoid getting something we don’t need or shouldn’t have. A few more "no, thank you’s" in our world may well lead to happier and more successful people and companies.

My wife has a "Thought for the Day" calendar on her desk. I’m usually the guy who pulls the sheet from the prior day off each morning and reads the current day’s wisdom. And as corny as it sounds, the thoughts are usually pretty wise.

On February 13th, the page said, "The cornerstone of success is self-control." And I thought to myself, "It sure is." The writers probably could have gone further and said the cornerstone to happiness is self-control.

We are all aware of public and personal stories of people that have experienced success of some kind and subsequent failure that resulted from a lack of self-control. Demise often occurs at the hands of substance abuse, gambling, marital infidelity, overeating, petty theft, inability to control temper or ego, dangerous proclivities, financial hubris, and so on. Unfortunately, we can fill volumes with the people who seemingly hit the self destruct button just when everything appeared to be going their way. Leading us all too often to ask, "Why?"

The answer is regularly a few too many, "yes’s" and not quite enough "no, thank you’s".

Self-control, discipline, focus, and a willingness to sacrifice are all components of success. I think we almost innately or intuitively know that work and sacrifice today will lead to better tomorrows. We also know that frivolity today will result in a need to work twice as hard tomorrow. And yet, in full knowledge of the risk and the price that will probably be paid, the easy road is way too seductive. "No, thank you" usually means more work, more slogging, more solitude while those who said "Sure, why not?" are out having fun.

I am not a fun hater. I love to have fun. But there is a limit. A couple of drinks and it is time to go home. If you like the casino, set limits, zip up the wallet and go find something else to do after you have generously funded the casino owners. If you enjoy a nice meal, hit the treadmill the next morning. A simple "No, thank you" can inevitably stave off a lot of ills.

The same can be said for companies. Companies have personalities that are usually highly reflective of the leaders. They have auras. They display behaviors that are predictable and demonstrative of how they view the world and how they view themselves. Frequently, companies turn into actual beings, susceptible to destructive patterns just like people.

Every successful company I have known had incredible self discipline. The company had a clear mission that was readily spoken up and down the ranks. Working hard every day at their craft was the focus of the entire team.

Every company and every leadership team has distractions, seductions, "offers they couldn’t refuse"— notoriously easy paths to success paved with bricks of gold. At each turn, the successful company collectively said, "No, thank you, we’ll just stick to our plan, work hard every day for our customers, remain humble and focused on what is important to us." And these companies are usually incredibly successful, year in and year out. Their methods are often not flashy and don’t garner headlines. By design and nature, they don’t care about recognition— other than that of loyal employees and loyal customers.

Contrast these companies with those you know that are changing their direction with the prevailing wind of the day. They are in and out of joint ventures that promise to "revolutionize" industries. They are constantly hiring the new guru consultant and abandoning the strategic wisdom of the last guy that was their purported messiah six months ago. They chase every rainbow in their industry, not having the courage to be the outlier or out of fashion. Every idea looks like a good idea and they consequently whip-saw their teams from left to right as they seek an easy path to success.

These companies tend to hang on by their fingernails and experience serious ups and downs. They tend to have very high turnover as the best and brightest move on to companies with vision, discipline and a high aptitude for success. The leaders of the easily seduced companies resemble snake oil salesmen, as they are always hawking the new idea as the present day launching pad to their forecasted greatness; always seeking the limelight of instant success and gratification.

Success is a long, arduous march. It requires patience, discipline, commitment and the courage to frequently say, "No, thank you" as we pick up our load one more day and continue on the straight and narrow path. Doing so will reveal that the journey and the destination are rewards well earned and, in time, well enjoyed.