Saying no, the right way

Walt Disney, C.V. Wood, who helped develop Disneyland, and Harrison "Buzz" Price

I learned the other day that Harrison “Buzz” Price passed away about a year ago. He was 89.

You probably don’t know the name, but Walt Disney did.

Disney dreamed up the modern theme park, but Harrison Price was a numbers man. He studied the data and told Disney where he should build it.

That’s how I met Harrison Price. I used to work in newspapers, and when I worked at the paper in Orlando, he was always gracious and patient when I called him with questions about amusement parks in general or Disney in particular.

When he was in his early 80s (and only semi-retired), he wrote a book called Walt’s Revolution: By the Numbers, about his career and what he called “rollercoaster math,” the math of the attractions business. We finally met when he came to town to promote the book, and he was even nicer in person than he had been on the phone.

Walt’s Revolution is a fascinating book, both as history and as a look at how that business operates. Of course, I’ll never try to build a theme park, but there’s one lesson in the book I’ll always remember:

Don’t say no.

Instead, say, “Yes, if….”

“Walt liked this language,” Price said in the book.

“No, because…” is the language of a deal killer. “Yes, if…” may mean the same thing, but Harrison Price called it “the approach of the deal maker.”

“Creative people thrive on ‘Yes, if,'” he said.

This is a great lesson, and it’s been a tough one to learn.

It’s usually easier to say no, but things usually turn out better when you turn it around and think it through and answer, “Yes, if….”

13 thoughts on “Saying no, the right way

    1. Thanks, E. Harrison Price really was an interesting guy. He was chairman of the board of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), a school founded by Walt Disney. He was founding chairman of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and he and his wife, Anne, founded Ryman Arts, a program for gifted high school artists. He was the real deal.

  1. Thanks, this is a nice post. I also like the “Yes, if…” idea and stopping to think of what will make it work, rather than jumping straight to the negative “No”. Think of how many great things we might have already let go by us due to quick rejection.

    1. I’ve worked with people whose first response is “No.” They’re not a lot of fun, and they eventually get left behind by the people who figured out a way to get things done.

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