Creative People Say No is an article has been making the rounds this week, about how creativity demands focus and time and suffers when it’s interrupted by extraneous jobs and tasks requested by others. The overall message works as a pique to get you to realize that you don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything, and that doing so may prevent you from realizing your goals. That’s good advice. The problem is, that advice doesn’t work the same for everyone.
The article describes a researcher who tried to interview creators about their process, and who was struck by how many said ‘no’ to his request. But if you read the summary carefully, you’ll quickly realize that many of them said ‘no’ via assistants or agents. Of course, it’s much easier to say ‘no’ (or ‘yes, with strings’) when someone else does the negotiating for you, which leads to the excellent advice: be successful, wealthy, and confident already, then say ‘no’ via proxies.
Here’s a different idea about how creativity and success works: you have to say ‘yes’ for a long while before you can earn the right to say ‘no.’ Even then, you usually can’t say ‘no’ at whim. By the time you can say ‘no’ indiscriminately, then you’re already so super-privileged that being able to say ‘no’ is not a prerequisite of success, but a result of it.
Naturally, there’s some truth to a word of faith-style interpretation of creative success. That is, by adopting or even feigning the confidence of success, one can partly will it into existence. The confident fashion their own success through charisma. But where does charisma come from? Sometimes from one’s innate personality, but more often from having had enough of a taste of success to ratchet up one’s confidence.
For those who did respond to the researcher’s request (rather than ignoring it), those who said ‘no’ cited lack of time as their reason. Of course, the flip-side of lacking time is having the good fortune to choose exactly how one spends time in the first place. Which leads us back to where we started: saying ‘yes’ may prevent you from realizing your goals, but only if you’ve already realized enough of them to know what sorts of activities will lead you there in the first place. Overall, it’s not that creative people say ‘no,’ but that fortunate people do.