The fast ‘no’ or the long ‘maybe’

SOURCE: Flickr user Horia Varlan

SOURCE: Flickr user Horia Varlan

In the constant search for resources, arts leaders are understandably eager to get to ‘yes’. Quite often the journey to get there is a long one, through building relationships, trust, and shared understanding of value and purpose. But could there be a circumstance when you want a faster path to ‘no’? Venture capitalist Anthony Tjan thinks so, in this classic post from 2010. And he’s happy to help you get nowhere quickly.

In the venture investment process, he says, both sides can avoid the essential decision to move forward, or not move forward. And both sides can be dragged into the distracting and diffusing ‘long maybe’ that pulls their focus from more productive roads. Says he:

In our own desire to preserve the possibility that an investor could be swayed and cultivated, we create false hopes and become masters of inefficiency. Because of our relationship focus and soft-sell process, we sometimes forget the need to push for the “ask” and more importantly, for a definitive decision.

Tjan’s suggestions for keeping the investment decision process focused and fast could also apply to the development or grant process:

  1. Be clear on the “ask”.
  2. Set a firm deadline and sense of urgency.
  3. Agree to and adhere to a post-pitch process.
  4. Affirm the silent no and provide an out.

Of course, if a ‘no’ is a genuine ‘not yet,’ there’s every reason to continue the relationship and build a shared connection. But if the outcome of a ‘long maybe’ is going to be a ‘hard no,’ wouldn’t you rather know now than later?

You and your organization need time, talent, and treasure. You can’t burn through the first two in search of the third.