I was once speaking with the personal assistant of one of my most influential clients. A large part of her job is to be the “gatekeeper” – the ultimate guardian of her boss’ time and schedule.
But when I asked her how often she actually had to “keep the gate”, she said that it was surprising to her how seldom people really tried to get past her and speak directly with her boss. At first, I thought that was odd, because I know a lot of people want things from this client.
And then I realized that wasn’t so odd at all. Because normally the gatekeeper inside us stops us way before we get to the gatekeeper outside us.
How many times do you stop yourself from asking?
How often do you talk yourself out of even looking into something or checking out a possibility because of that voice inside your head saying things like “Gee, they must get bombarded with things like this all the time”, or “that’s never going to work” or “there’s no point in even trying – they’re just going to say no”? We all have that voice – and yet some people aren’t stopped by it. What is it that allows them to move forward while the rest of us hold back?
Years ago, James Carville and Paul Begala were managing the presidential campaign of a then relatively unknown Governor from Arkansas named William Jefferson Clinton. They recognized that the only chance they had to make headway coming from the back of a very competitive field was if they changed the normal way of doing things.
In traditional political campaigns, the default response to any newly proposed initiative is “no”.
In a bizarre twist on “first, do no harm”, the only ideas that get through the screening process are the very small percentage that are either completely generic or on rare occasions, undeniably brilliant. While this does indeed result in a kind of damage limitation, it also results in ideas that don’t make that much difference to a campaign or in the world.
Since Clinton was never going to win with a traditional campaign, his team decided to do something kind of unique up until that point in politics. They decided to change the default response to “yes”. Instead of new ideas having to make it through layers of hierarchical bureaucracy before being approved, the new policy was essentially that any idea that had not been completely shot down by 9am was OK to run with.
This wasn’t an “anything goes” policy, and a number of eccentric, dodgy, and downright idiotic ideas didn’t make it through. But whereas most campaigns might try 2 or 3 different things in a month, the Clinton campaign was trying that many new things each day. And in the space of less than a year, he went from being a complete outsider that nobody believed had a chance to becoming the President of the United States of America.
While you may not want to become the next President, you can still benefit from making this simple shift in your own life. So as an experiment this week, flip your inner default switch from “no” to “yes” – from “what’s the point?” to “what the heck?”
Even if that voice inside your head turns out to be mostly right and things don’t work out and people do say “no” to your requests, you only have to be wrong two or three times to make tremendous progress on your seemingly impossible dreams. And if you don’t start moving past your inner gatekeeper, you’re probably not going to get very far in the outside world.
Have fun, learn heaps, and “just say ‘yes’!”