In New Ideas From Dead CEOs, Todd Buchholz tells a story about the time Akio Morita said no. Long before Sony was a household name, they had an opportunity to turbo-charge their growth.
Their hand-held radio caught the attention of the watch company, Bulova. At the time, the young scrappy company was selling units out of a briefcase so when Bulova came to them wanting to order one-hundred thousand units, the board was ecstatic. This was well beyond anything Sony had ever done before. But this make-or-break moment came with a catch. Bulova wanted the radios all stamped with their logo. Morita was told “Our company is a famous brand name that has taken over fifty years to establish. Nobody has ever heard of your brand name. Why not take advantage of ours?” Morita fought the board and won. He turned down this massive opportunity and years later declared it was the best decision he ever made.
This got me thinking about how saying no has become something of a cliché these days. Last week James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, tweeted “The ultimate productivity hack is saying no.” This is solid advice for people like him whose inbox is overflowing with invitations. Successful people can’t possibly say yes to everything. Life hacks like this, however, and most life hacks in general, come from the few and don’t apply to the many.
Saying no is not necessarily bad advice, it’s just that the people who espouse this as a way of life already made it. It’s like when people say “Do what you love. Don’t chase money. I was never driven by money.” Again, not bad advice, but also only something the average person would never say. Young people should instead say yes to everything because you just never know what doors might be opened for you.
If you roll your eyes every time you read about the latest life hack, you are not alone. Successful people can pat themselves on the back for all the times they said no, but if Sony hadn’t gone on to change the electronic world, it’s likely that this decision would have haunted Morita for the rest of his life.