The Incredible, Liberating Power of NO

The Incredible, Liberating Power of NO

by Tracy Johnson

Ask broadcasters what they’d like to change about radio, and someone will say that we have to get stronger and more confident with our brands. We need to attract the attention and respect the industry deserves. And they’re right. Radio has been taking a beating for far too long. Want to know how to start? Start with the power of no.

Saying “no” will get you closer to yes. And it is the start to some much needed changes.

This hit me between the eyes at Morning Show Boot Camp. One of the executives on the programming panel actually said:

I’d rather have someone that’s #2 and brings in triple the endorsement revenue than someone who is #1, but a pain in the ass.

Oh my. This is one of the problems in radio today. The industry prioritizes the current ad buy over all else. We don’t need personalties that can sell ads. We need personalities that inspire audiences and lead a community of fans. Leave selling to the account executives.

For that to happen, we need a rapid and dramatic injection of creativity. But that won’t happen unless we start saying “no”.

Protect The Product

I was invited to be a part of a client’s department head meeting.

The promotions director provided an update on a station-sponsored concert series taking place at a prominent venue. The client was receiving a significant on-air promo schedule for several months, over and above their advertising campaign. The concert series was to be co-branded with the station’s name.

The promotions director related that the client has refused to allow the station to display any visual signage on stage. They refused to include the station’s name in their advertising, even on our station. And they turned us down for distributing anything with the station logo on it. They even tuned down the station’s request to park the vehicle (a really cool bus) at the event.

After a (very) brief discussion, it was decided that, “It is what it is. Nothing we can do.” Almost under his breath, the promotions director said,

We never say no. We’re always the good guy. But they say no to us all the time. It used to be that we’d refuse to put our name on an event unless we had a 30-foot logo as a backdrop to the concert. Now we just accept “no”.

Meanwhile, programming personnel and air talent spend most of their time on tasks that don’t move our brands forward. Because we never say no.

Sad. Depressing. Scary. We accept “no”, but rarely say it.

Steve Jobs famously said that Apple was defined as much by what it doesn’t do as what it does. He had the strength and power to say “no” to a lot of good ideas.

Make Time To Be Creative

This has to change. Radio has to value our brands, and protect brand integrity…while we still have some.

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But who has time to be creative? PDs are programming multiple stations, overseeing digital and promotions departments and often voice tracking shows on several stations. Personalities are expected to manage social media, develop podcasts, make endless promotional appearances and go on sales calls.

More and more, the important is compromised for the urgent. And creativity is lost because nobody has time. So we have to find the time by doing less.

Creativity Through No

Most folks think of creativity as the skill to generate something brand new out of nothing. That’s one form of creativity, of course. But another is simply having a keen understanding of how a brand can be successful.

Tim Ferris calls it Experiments in Lifestyle Design. Tim published a brilliant article about unleashing productivity he believes creativity is a myth.

The article is about a Hungarian psychologist that was seeking to discover the secret to unleashing creativity. He contacted many creators for help, and was amazed at how many said “no.”

If you don’t have time (or interest) in reading it all, the key point is that we must prioritize and focus our efforts to be most productive.

Here is an excerpt from Tim’s article that emphasizes 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. And 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.

When we try to do too many things or do too much, our product suffers. We all need to focus. Sound familiar? Do you know anyone in radio that has time to create?

How To Leverage the Power of No

Ferris transitions to a discussion about creativity and time.

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.

People who create know this. They know the world is all strangers with candy. They know how to say “no” and they know how to suffer the consequences. Charles Dickens, rejecting an invitation from a friend:

“‘It is only half an hour’–’It is only an afternoon’–’It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again; but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes–or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day.

Who ever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.”


How can you put this to work at your station? When there is more focus on fewer things, great growth results. That’s what Gordon Ramsay does when working with a restaurant. It’s what I do when re-launching a radio brand with Zero Based Programming.

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It’s up to broadcast executives and managers to empower creative excellence by allowing air talent and programmers to say “no”.

It will make your product better. And that’s what we all need.

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