The award-winning Rolling Stone is such an important stop along the way to stardom for musical groups that Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show famously recorded a song imploring the magazine to feature them on its cover. But in its early days, the band Imagine Dragons chose to turn down a chance to be on Rolling Stone's cover. It was the smartest decision they ever made.

That assessment comes from Dan Reynolds, founder, lead singer, and songwriter for the group. At a Qualtrics tech conference earlier this year, Reynolds took the stage for a live interview, even though he was supposed to be on vocal rest in preparation for the band's performance that night. 

Reynolds talked about wearing braces (with an expander!) in middle school, growing up in a conservative household, and his preference for big songs. And then he revealed that in 2011, while the band was still only semi-successful, Rolling Stone invited Imagine Dragons to participate in the magazine's first-ever contest to put an unsigned band on the cover. Sixteen groups were to compete, with readers voting to determine the winner. "If you won, you got to be on the cover and get signed by Atlantic for a really bad deal," Reynolds said.

Saying no to Rolling Stone.

Even that bad deal was very alluring, though, given the band's fortunes at the time. "We were unsigned for three years," Reynolds said. "Nobody wants to date you, you never have any money. We were playing rooms of 200 to 300 people."

The band members were tempted and they talked it over, but ultimately decided to pass. "It would be so cool, but your fans might be disappointed because you're on the cover of Rolling Stone and you don't deserve to be, it's just because you won the contest," Reynolds explained. Instead, they decided to grow organically and much more slowly, nurturing their fan base by responding personally to emails and inviting fans to their shows.

Now Reynolds calls it "the best decision we ever made." He added, "Another band won and you don't know who they are and that tells you everything you need to know."

In fact, the winner was The Sheepdogs, a band from Saskatchewan in Canada. Winning the contest did provide a bit of a visibility boost, and they've played a number of festivals, including South by Southwest. But they haven't achieved anything near Imagine Dragons' success. After passing on the Rolling Stone contest, Imagine Dragons released the single "It's Time" and the album Night Visions, both of which were big hits. Since then, the band has had a procession of radio hits: "Demons," "Radioactive," "Natural," "Believer," "Thunder," and "Whatever It Takes," among others. "Radioactive" won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance in 2014, and the group has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide.

A very wise entrepreneur once told me that the things you say no to do more to shape your career and successes than the things you say yes to. There's a lot of truth to that notion, as Imagine Dragons' story shows. It takes smarts, and even more self-discipline, to turn down a seemingly great offer, especially when there are no other offers in sight. But you should still do it. Saying no to something that isn't right will always land you in a better place than saying yes would have.