Aug 8

The value of NO

There was a time when humans ruled the Earth. Then, after a plague that killed off cats and dogs, people began to keep apes as pets. But apes could do so much more than cats or dogs and, before long, they were being used as slaves.

Until, eventually, one ape said ‘No’.

Everything changed. Humans fell and apes ruled the Earth. Sort of. I think the history was revised a little in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and it’s probably way off in that new one. That’s not important.

What is important is what we can learn from this inevitable sequence of events – if you learn to say ‘no’, you can rule the Earth. Or at least do well in your job or life.

Let me tell you another story.

Many years ago, I was directing an ad. As ads go, it was a pretty good one and definitely for some of the best people I encountered in adworld. A cartoon family running around a cartoon house, made in state-of-the-art (ish) CG. The agency producer asked me for floor plans to show the client.

I said no.

No, the client really needs to see the layout of the house.

Yeah, you’re not getting that.

Why? Why did I refuse? Was I just being a total ass? No. Really, I wasn’t. Honestly. Oh, now you think I’m an ass, don’t you? Well the thing is, the floor plan would have been meaningless. It was a cartoon – we’d be cheating every shot to suit the needs of the ad. We weren’t ever going to be locked to a floor plan. Doing a floor plan would have been pointless and counter-productive.

But the client was spending a quarter of a million on this ad. Shouldn’t I just have done it to keep them happy?


Every minute, every hour, that me or a member of my team does something that doesn’t improve the quality of the actual work is an hour or minute in which the work gets worse. That time is far better spent doing something that actually matters. Work that directly contributes to the final product, or on the requests that will matter. Time is limited. It’s not something we can afford to throw away. Not something we can waste, no matter who we are indulging.

I said no.

They didn’t get their floor plans, the ad turned out great, the client was really happy and I ended up marrying the agency producer. Happy ending.

From there, I made a quality preschool show with just five animators (four at times), tight deadlines and a mere fraction of the resources of most other shows. By streamlining. Cutting out every process that isn’t 100% necessary. By saying no. Oh, I’ve indulged a few people more than I should have (I shudder at the time wasted on conversations about the Fluffy Gardens houses) but, hey, we live and learn and now, with PLANET COSMO, I’m finding I can make a far better show with those same resources.

But only by saying no to the likes of floor plans.

We all do things our own way of course and I know my animation systems are very different to those elsewhere. They work great for me but I suspect they might well only work for me. Nevertheless, if you add up the time you spend each week on work that doesn’t directly contribute to the final product, whether its indulging requests, working to ‘accepted’ systems or the time you spend talking about work rather than doing it, those time-killing meetings and conference calls, you might find yourself horrified at the wasted hours.

You might find that there is a huge amount of your week you can reclaim, without losing a thing, by saying no. ‘No’ could mean you have more time to make your work better, time to get home to the kids, time to sleep.

Or, if those apes are anything to go by, you might even overthrow your human overlords and take over the Earth. And who doesn’t dream of that, eh?

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