No Doesn’t Mean No

Remember The Apprentice TV show? It was better in the early seasons but always entertaining viewing and full of lessons. It was more useful as an example of what not to do than anything else.

One classic task was to work as a team and source a variety of obscure items within a certain timescale. The candidate who was fired always highlighted a key lesson for entrepreneurs with their mistakes. The designated item to find is a certain quantity of muscles (seafood) with seemingly few places to source them from. She went into a restaurant that had muscles on the menu. She asked a waitress if she could purchase a quantity of them. The waitress said she’d need to ask someone. The waitress came back and said No. The candidate accepted the NO and left. Didn’t get the item. Failed the task. Ultimately was fired.

Here’s the lesson: How easily do you accept NO?

That’s the difference between an entrepreneur and a ‘traditional’ employee. Employees and most people are easily stopped by the first NO. All it takes is one little NO for them to give up and say it can’t be done. Or “I tried but they said No and I didn’t know what else to do.” When you’re an entrepreneur and your neck is on the line you care about results. And you have to bypass, ignore, barge through, or charm your way past a whole host of “No’s”. That’s what get’s results.

If someone says NO, ask them again. Ask them in a different way.  Ask someone else. Do SOMETHING. Do whatever you need to do to get the result.

There’s a great story about how Kenneth Cole got started. He knows how to ignore a NO. Here it is in his own words.

“In the early 1980s, there were two ways of addressing shoe buyers at a trade show in New York. One could take a room at the Hilton Hotel with about 1,100 other companies, where the buyers would walk all the rooms. Or one could take a big fancy showroom near the hotel. I didn’t really have the resources to afford either. So, on a whim, I called a friend who was in the trucking business and asked to borrow one of his 40-foot trailers. Then I called the mayor’s office and said, “Excuse me, how does one get permission to park a trailer on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 56th Street?” And they said, “Sorry, son, they don’t. This is New York. You get permission only under two circumstances: If you’re a utility company servicing our streets, or if you’re a production company shooting a full-length motion picture.”

So I hung up the phone and changed the name of my company to Kenneth Cole Productions, Inc., and the following morning I filed for a permit to shoot a motion picture called The Birth of a Shoe Company.

I opened for business on December 2nd. I had a cameraman, stanchions, and klieg lights. Within two and a half days, I had sold 40,000 pairs of shoes. And the company today is still Kenneth Cole Productions to remind us of the importance of resourcefulness and problem solving.”