21 Jan

Say No to No

When you’re at work meetings, have you ever noticed how many people will just find all the reasons why something won’t work?

Have you ever worked with someone who, rather than doing this, moves towards the outcome whilst working around the challenges. “yes, we can do this, and we need to manage these risks”

Employees of large companies waste millions of dollars every year having circular arguments about why particular activities won’t work.  These activities are time-consuming, frustrating, and largely ineffective.

A while ago I was introduced to the term “Institutional Yes” vs “Institutional No”.  The way I see this idea is that any given organisation will have a predisposition or culture towards having a positive or negative attitude towards the possibility of taking action.

Yes, and…

People involved in group workshops should be coached to use “Yes, and…” thinking, a technique originating in improvisational comedy (wikipedia).

Rather than trying to identify all the reasons why something won’t work, the participants of these workshops should assume that the objective is achievable.

In my work as a DevOps consultant, I encounter with lots of companies who have been struggling to achieve their project goals or overcome technical challenges as a result of trying to come up with the perfect plan, free of risk.

Conversely, I have also worked with people who are able to turn things around more effectively, most often, these are the people who have a “can do” attitude.

Popularised by the book “Yes And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration“, there have been numerous articles on the topic, including Bob Kulhan’s post where he suggests that “Yes, and…” might be the most valuable phrase in business.

ok, so let’s assume we will solve this, what do we need to do?

Three steps to success

Yes, And…

The first step is simple. Next time you’re in a meeting, another situation where someone presents a new idea, or you’re trying to solve a problem – take notice of your natural reaction. Is it to say yes, or no? Try the “Yes, and…” approach.

Institutional Yes

Once you’ve mastered the basic improvisational technique of the “Yes, and…” method, it’s to things it’s time to take things to the next level and to try infecting the rest of your workplace. I often find myself in meetings that are going nowhere to the point where I will interrupt and re-frame the problem as “ok, so let’s assume we will solve this, what do we need to do?”.

More often than not the effects are almost instant, and the majority of participants will change their approach. The outcomes of these meetings are better.

What do you do with an idea?

When I shared the theme of this blog post with my sister, she gave me a kids book that she had.  “What do you do with an idea?” – a story about a child who has an idea, and how they nurture the idea despite challenges and criticism until it blossoms into a great idea and their guiding direction.  Are you treating ideas kindly, or are you ignoring and destroying them?

Your turn

Are you going to continue to make excuses for why you can’t try the steps above, or, are you going to say “Yes, and…” and start breaking down the barriers to progress that have been holding you, and your company, back for years?