"You need to put some more paint on the canvas..."

The following is the original and the rewrite can be found by clicking here.

I recently had a conversation with a seasoned business professional and our discussion found itself weaving to leadership; which often happens and rightfully so. 

As part of the conversation he mentioned that he rarely says "no" but rather likes to say, "You need to put some more paint on the canvas". I could not help but smile when he said this - It is such great saying; rich with important meaning.

The point to be made here is not about a crafty way of avoiding the word "no" or delaying a decision, but rather the recognition that a "picture needs to be painted" before you can ever utter the word "no" (or "yes" for that matter), and that sometimes the picture just isn't finished. 

Simplistically speaking, leaders would like to be able to say "no, don't do it" or "yes, do it", but more often than not they find themselves needing more information or "a better picture" before they are able to, with good conscience, say "yes or no". 

Of course there are situations where the "obvious" prevails and an answer of "yes" or "no" is a proverbial "no brainer", but more often than not, information, background, and justification in the form of a good ol' solid business case is needed, which metaphorically speaking, is a canvas. 

And to carry the metaphor further, as an artist you need to remember:

  • You want to paint the best picture you can - That is to say you want to communicate effectively, provide the appropriate information for understanding the Who, What, Where, When and Why of the situation and support the decision making process.
  • Not all canvases are the same size - In other words, depending on the situation, the information needed to support decisions may be different or varying in depth; all based on business impact, timing, risk, return and the personalities involved.
  • Be the best artist you can - Seems self explanatory
  • Everyone is an art critic - You may have painted a wonderful picture of the situation but there may be someone who wants it to be "just a little better"... alas, it falls on the artist to give them what they want. More often than not though, it will make you a better artist.
  • Not everyone will like the same art you do - Although you may have painted a wonderful picture, for business, strategic, core value, or other not so clear reasons, the company just isn't going to hang your painting on the wall. The upside... you at least know the answer.

So there you have it; what can come out of a great conversation...metaphors and all. 

As an aside, the unfinished painting shown is the "Signing of the Treaty of Paris" by Benjamin West that depicted the signing of the treaty that put an end to the American Revolution and formally recognized the United States as an independent nation. A beautiful painting to be sure.