For just two letters, this word may be the most powerful one in the English language.  It sets limits.  It defines boundaries. It has the power to stop.  It can discourage.  It causes more fear than any other single word.

It’s easy to assume that No gets used way more than any other word as well.  It’s the word of defiance used early in our lives, to show us boundaries, and anyone who has seen an average two year old, knows that it is one of the first words we master and use with others.

No can motivate.  Once I know the worst someone can say to me is no, and I am prepared for that response,  almost anything becomes possible.  I am free to try, to swing for the fences, because I am already prepared and accept the worst they can throw at me- a simple No.

But surprisingly, we use No sparingly.  We avoid saying No because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so instead, we’ll try to take on that extra favor for a friend, or find extra time we don’t have, or hang up on a solicitor rather than simply and politely saying No Thanks.  We’d rather avoid being honest than pull out that little word, No.

Recently, Chris Penn was asked whether he would post a presentation of his to the web, and he said, “No.”  I have a recording of that presentation, and I am also honoring his “no” and won’t be posting it or my notes to the web.   Why would people very involved in the podcasting community and in sharing, people who host events about group learning decide to say no and withhold information from others?  Chris got a lot of email from people who were upset with him for saying no, for imposing a limit.  Yet my question is “Why do you feel entitled to his presentation and intellectual property for free?”

Chris spoke at the merged “petcha kucha/Battledecks” presentation we had at 8 am on Sunday morning.  As is usual for early morning at most conferences, only the die hards and truly dedicated were there.  Chris gave one of the most useful 5 minute presentations I have ever seen, and felt it was a reward for those who were there, who recorded it, who took notes and were paying attention, and those that did not come, missed out on something special.  And he does not feel obligated to serve those who were not willing to get out of bed or make seeing his presentation a priority.

People were getting upset that he decided he would not share his information out further.  Chris decided to say no, simply and elegantly.  He set a boundary, and people got mad, just like the two year old who’s told it’s bedtime.

My question is this:  If you aren’t willing to attend someone’s session, if you aren’t willing to give him your presence when he speaks, why should he give you his information later on?  What have you done to earn or deserve it?  And why should someone else like me, who may have recorded the session, make that material available to you?

The community doesn’t like the word No.  They will tell you it’s against the very nature of bringing people together to set up limits and boundaries.  But these are the same people who said No to getting up early, to taking in an experience even if it was inconvenient.  The no’s balance out perfectly, and harmony should be restored.

One of the challenges internet communities have is that the all-access pass of communication, 24 x 7, gives an illusion that anything you want should be yours.  And that simply is not true.

Community leaders who have run Podcamps, for example, are beginning to want to see others take over the work that they’ve started.  Yet many people just seem to want events to appear for their convenience, not appreciating the work, the planning, and the long hours and stress that a few people bear for the sake of everyone else.  And the people who have stepped up are getting to the point where they need to say no.  They have other interests.  They have other demands on their time.  They have families who’d like to see them from time to time.

People are having to say no and set limits regarding their time and resources.  I respect this, no matter how much I would rather hear Yes.  We are living in a world where abundance is no longer the rule, and scarcity will start to rule the day.  People are having to make do with less and less.  And we need to seriously consider that there is going to be an increase in quid pro quo- things will no longer be free, but will require an equal exchange, a barter, to make things happen.  This means also being aware of your value proposition, and be willing to say to others that you can’t have it all for free.  It may not cost you money, but it will cost you effort or time to show up and participate, at the very least.

No is powerful.  You need to understand the quid pro quo of your No’s.  If you aren’t showing up at events or sessions, you are saying no, even while you say yes to other things, as simple as investing your time and money elsewhere.  Expecting others to bear the burden and cost of your no’s and provide you what you missed, no questions asked, is no more fair and equitable than asking someone else to pay the tab at a restaurant where you’ve enjoyed the meal.

Opportunity costs.  Yeah.