02/03/2013 11:52 EST | Updated 04/06/2013 05:12 EDT

What I Learned This Week: Why "Yes" Is Always Best

About three weeks ago, I was asked to deliver a keynote speech. And I've been wavering on giving a definitive answer ever since.  

For the record, it's at a gathering of Young Chamber of Commerce Organizations, so the setting is relatively pertinent to my day-to-day. It's being held in picturesque Quebec City on a Saturday in early June, so I can make a weekend out of it. And the request comes from one of my cousins, so I know the responsible party is, well, somewhat responsible.

But I've been hesitant on giving him an answer for a number of good reasons, primarily because I have so much going on at that time of year and I can't be 100 per cent sure that something won't come up to screw up the plans.

So today...I said "Yes" anyway.

Earlier last week I also said "Yes" to a series of three-year business financial projections that can be scuttled in a heartbeat by myriad variables way beyond my realm of control.

But I said "Yes" anyway.

That response was not merely my big learning this week, but why I will continue to say "Yes" way more than I say "No" for the foreseeable future. Even when I am not entirely certain of the outcome.

Here's the reasoning: No matter what the game, or the project, saying "Yes" maintains your presence in it.  Saying "No" shuts you out, and shuts things down.

Say "Yes" and you can always come back and say "No" later; the option to stop is yours. Say "No" and you can't go back and look for a "Yes" later; the other party will most likely have moved on, making your chances to re-start or rekindle the "Yes" spark nearly impossible. Getting to "Yes" after first saying "No" is like trying to light a waterlogged firecracker. The spark is gone.

"Yes" keeps you alive, even if you have no idea where you're going. Either you figure things out along the way, or things blow up in your face. But even if it's the latter, in the end, you're rarely any worse off than you'd be had you said "No" in the first place.  

No matter how much you plan in advance, you will never even come close to fully controlling the unknown. Reminds me of a great quote: "You wanna make God laugh? Tell him (or her, I suppose) your plans." Funny, but very profound. So don't try to control life's ups and downs by overthinking the future; ride 'em out instead on your Yes-board.

Perhaps the best way to drive home this message, and end this off with a smile, is with this true Just For Laughs anecdote of a few years ago...

A well-known comedian, who shall remain nameless, was going through a terrible bout of depression (uh, this isn't the funny part). On a particularly horrible day, he called his manager and told him that he was about to commit suicide.

The manager wisely kept his despondent client on the phone, motioned his assistant into his office, and had her call 911 from another line. Police cars and an ambulance crew were dispatched to the comedian's house, broke their way in, subdued the man and rushed him to the hospital.  

The manager sped over to the hospital as well. While there, he filled out papers, called the comic's family, and spoke to a series of different doctors. After a few hours, things settled down somewhat, so the manager called his office to see if there were any messages. His assistant rattled off the names of a few people who had called before hitting him with this:

"Bruce Hills from Just For Laughs called. They're going to press with their ads and programme. He told me to tell you that he needs to know RIGHT NOW whether or not (the comedian) will be coming this summer. They want him for a week of club dates, an outdoor concert and two different sets for their TV shows in Canada, the USA and Great Britain."

The manager told his assistant to give him a minute, and handed his cellphone to someone to hold as he made his way down to the hall to check in on his client. Once there, he peeked into his room, and to his horror, saw the comedian violently struggling against arm restraints and a team of orderlies, all the while barking out equally violent threats against himself and others.

The manager walked back down the hall, took back his phone, took a deep breath, and calmly said this to his assistant:

"Tell him yes!" 

P.S.  The comedian ended up making to that year's festival. And to many others since then.