Although being assertive is commonly associated with all sorts of positive qualities for any type of work, the ability to say ‘no’ seems to be an essential requirement for creative endeavours.

The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of one of the most relevant investigations surrounding creativity, found that a common characteristic among creative people is that they tend to know when to say no and hence, avoid wasting their time and energy.

Csikszentmihalyi, a professor at the University of Chicago, sought out 275 people he considered to be “creative”, these included writers, publicists, designers, film directors, etc. More than two thirds of these candidates refused to be interviewed —some of them arguing that one of the reasons why they were creative was that they spent their time working, not talking about their work. Embodying what Picasso said “Inspiration exists, but only if it finds us working”.

The famous management writer Peter Drucker answered:

One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours — productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.

Saul Bellow’s secretary said:

Mr. Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s ‘studies.’

The photographer Richard Avedon answered:

Sorry — too little time left.

George Ligeti’s secretary answered:

He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study. He would also like to add that he cannot answer your letter personally because he is trying desperately to finish a Violin Concerto which will be premiered in the fall.

From these series of negative answers we can infer something obvious: creativity is intimately related to time spent working. It can, however also suggest that the ‘no’ is more than a busy and organised agenda that does not allow for any distraction, it is a philosophy of self-affirmation, beyond social commitments, emotional blackmail, and good manners —it is a path of individualisation that shows integrity towards our own nature.

The creative ‘no’ encourages us to ponder about every time we said ‘yes’, to be on good terms with someone, or because we didn’t dare to do or say what we actually wanted—time, energy and self-determination that we could have channelled into acts of creativity.

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Although being assertive is commonly associated with all sorts of positive qualities for any type of work, the ability to say ‘no’ seems to be an essential requirement for creative endeavours.

The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of one of the most relevant investigations surrounding creativity, found that a common characteristic among creative people is that they tend to know when to say no and hence, avoid wasting their time and energy.

Csikszentmihalyi, a professor at the University of Chicago, sought out 275 people he considered to be “creative”, these included writers, publicists, designers, film directors, etc. More than two thirds of these candidates refused to be interviewed —some of them arguing that one of the reasons why they were creative was that they spent their time working, not talking about their work. Embodying what Picasso said “Inspiration exists, but only if it finds us working”.

The famous management writer Peter Drucker answered:

One of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours — productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.

Saul Bellow’s secretary said:

Mr. Bellow informed me that he remains creative in the second half of life, at least in part, because he does not allow himself to be a part of other people’s ‘studies.’

The photographer Richard Avedon answered:

Sorry — too little time left.

George Ligeti’s secretary answered:

He is creative and, because of this, totally overworked. Therefore, the very reason you wish to study his creative process is also the reason why he (unfortunately) does not have time to help you in this study. He would also like to add that he cannot answer your letter personally because he is trying desperately to finish a Violin Concerto which will be premiered in the fall.

From these series of negative answers we can infer something obvious: creativity is intimately related to time spent working. It can, however also suggest that the ‘no’ is more than a busy and organised agenda that does not allow for any distraction, it is a philosophy of self-affirmation, beyond social commitments, emotional blackmail, and good manners —it is a path of individualisation that shows integrity towards our own nature.

The creative ‘no’ encourages us to ponder about every time we said ‘yes’, to be on good terms with someone, or because we didn’t dare to do or say what we actually wanted—time, energy and self-determination that we could have channelled into acts of creativity.

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