The One Little Word You Need to Succeed

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If you say "yes" to everything, you end up with time for nothing, so start saying “no” to things. By Azi Jamalian (Co-Founder & Chief Learning Officer, Tiggly)

The ability to say “no” is actually very important.

As entrepreneurs, we say “yes” far more often than we say “no.” Saying “yes” can be a good thing… until it’s too much to handle.

We’re not afraid of new adventures to undertake or new challenges to tackle. We love the excitement that comes with solving the unknown, creating the new thing; just working on things we love to work on. That makes it hard for us to say “no.”

The Appeal of Saying “Yes”...

New features? Yes, we can do it. Expanding the business? Yes, absolutely. Speaking at conferences? Yes, would love to. Traveling even more? Yes, that’s exciting! Every new “yes” is an amazing new experience for us to learn from, to grow, to get better at what we do.

When I first met Phyl Georgio and Bart Claremen, the other two co-founders at Tiggly, I was still at school, finishing my PhD. Phyl told me about his passion to invent a whole new learning experience for children who play on iPad. He wanted to bring physical play back to digital tablets, and he wanted to work with someone who knows how kids actually learn. It was my dream project to work on… I said, “yes.”

A few months before that, my advisor had asked me whether I’d be interested in doing a post-doc appointment on a project we’d started; a post-doc position in NYC with an adviser that I love like a mother… I said, “yes.”

When I was about to graduate, my other adviser asked me if I’m interested in teaching a course on development of mathematical thinking at Teachers College, Columbia University. Teaching a course on a subject that I live and breathe, at a school that I absolutely adore? I said, “yes”.

The list goes on and on, even at my work at Tiggly. Adding 8 languages to all of our apps? Absolutely. Be on Android? Yes. Coordinating three important research projects on our products? Yes, we need to.

Saying yes has always served me well…until it was just too much for me to handle.

… Until You Actually Can’t Deliver

The most surprising thing to me was that I couldn’t say “no,” even if I wanted to. I had to convince myself "it’s OK to pass". It doesn't mean I’m lazy or uninspired. It just means I don’t have the time.

Then I had to actually learn how to say it! My first approach was to delay things; not a good approach. Then I started to make myself less available but to still be involved; doesn’t work all the time. Finally, I came to the conclusion that I need to choose. It’s hard to do so when you love to do it all in a society that celebrates the myth of “doing it all.”

Embracing the Word “No”

I think it is important to break the taboo. It is important to start talking about the “no’s” we have said. The “no’s” we should have said, and the “no’s” we are planning to say. Knowing when and how to pass is an art. Let’s talk about it.

I did say “no” to the post-doc. I’m still suffering from it, but it was important to do it. It gave me time and energy to truly embrace what we are trying to do for Tiggly’s children: to design rich learning and play opportunities for them that add to their life, put a smile on their face, and make them dream – dream to be a chef, to go to the space, or even save the kittens on the roof top!

We want Tiggly’s kids grow a love for learning… to say yes to many things, but eventually have the power to choose. And sometimes that will mean saying no.

How good are you at saying “no”?

Photo credit: sematadesign via Shutterstock.


About the guest blogger: Azadeh (Azi) Jamalian is a co-founder and Chief Learning Officer at Tiggly- an exiting new learning company that is on a mission to improve how preschoolers learn on their tablets. Tiggly brings physical play to tablets by designing fun learning toys that interact with the silliest learning apps you could imagine! At Tiggly, she overseas product design, curriculum, and research.