Insights are often unveiled in casual conversations we have with clients, colleagues or friends – a point in time where both parties realise this is important stuff, and most people are struggling with it. These insights don’t wait for formal engagements – they happen over coffees and on couches. Our ‘couch coffees’ is a continuing series of posts where we’ll publish some of these insights – simple, short and sharp. They might be second nature to some; for others, they might be closer to epiphanies. For most, we hope they’re simply nudges in the right direction.

Most of the time, most of us feel like we’re missing a myriad of opportunities. Yet we’ve all heard that strategy is as much about saying no to things that we should avoid as it is about saying yes to things we should pursue. So how do we say no more effectively? How do we build this into our strategy process?

Strategy and OKRs

It’s no secret that we advocate OKRs as a methodology to manage goals. Usually, it’s promoted because of attributes like “helping teams work together”, “translating strategy into action”, or “driving accountability”. One of our team members loves OKRs because it gives him the freedom to spend time on certain things without feeling guilty. This is an attribute, or perhaps a consequence, that isn’t explored often but a significant benefit of using OKRs.


This colleague is stressed because of the high demand put on him. There is a call on his time from various individuals in various organisations – from clients to staff to partners to suppliers. His OKRs allow him to carve out significant chunks of time without feeling guilty about everything else he’s not getting to.

His stress is caused by holding on to the expectations others have on him and to the deadlines he needs to meet.

Saying no is letting go of those expectations or deadlines. Instead, it’s a deliberate decision not to spend time on certain things.

Suppose he can decide on goals that align with his strategy, articulate them as OKRs and communicate them effectively. In that case, he releases the expectations others have placed on him and creates more headspace for the essential things.


Let’s juxtapose this for a moment against not making a decision. If our colleague doesn’t make a no-decision, he is reserving mental headspace for that theme. So that “theme” is going to mull around in his head like a sock in a washing machine, going around and around, making him feel guilty that he’s not spending time on it. And that, in turn, will have negative implications on the things that he does spend time on because he’s not fully committed.

If you feel like you’re missing out on opportunities, it might be the ones that are right in front of you that you’re missing out on. It might be that you are carrying so many different opportunities in your mind, that you’re not giving the ones in your lap the proper amount of attention. Unfortunately, this means you’ll be squandering the ones in your mind as well as the ones in your lap.

Or said another way – if you’re juggling too many balls, all of them might drop. Rather be deliberate about dropping some and keep the right ones in the air.

Don’t be afraid to say no. Say no deliberately. Communicate it effectively. Let the balls drop. And then commit to the ones that you need to keep in the air.

“Strategy is choice. Strategy means saying no to certain kinds of things.”

Michael Porter

Some companies – apparently Lotus according to John Doerr – uses a concept called NOKR. The N is for non, as in non-OKR. These are deliberate decisions that the company has made to communicate the things they will not be spending time on.

If you have questions, we’re always keen for coffee.

Get in touch so that we can brainstorm a few solutions together!

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