Yes…but…and

We have all had the first rule of brainstorming, “defer judgment,” drilled into us for years. The general rule of “When a person proposes an idea, don’t say, ‘Yes, but…’ to point out flaws in the idea; instead, say, ‘Yes, and…’” which is intended to get people to add to the original idea, has become almost a norm in business settings. We have all become improv actors.

That truism is probably not a good one though. It can lend to a fairly superficial approach. Yes we need to be beyond “Yes, but”, but “Yes, and” stifles creativity. The concept of “Yes, and” gives an illusion of moving forward, avoiding conflict, but also prevents truly diving in and exploring issues.

We need to combine the best aspects of criticism and ideation, “Yes…but…and.” I propose idea A, a colleague first addresses what she perceives to be a flaw in it, provides constructive feedback (this is the “but”), and then suggests a possible way to overcome or avoid the flaw, yielding Idea B (this is the “and”). Then you do the same: You acknowledge Idea B, provide a constructive critique, and develop a new, even more improved result. Others can jump in with their critiques and proposals during the process. This kind of constructive interaction encourages a deep cycle of critical dialogues that can lead to a coherent, breakthrough idea.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • When you see a weakness in the idea, don’t simply say, “This does not work.” Rather, first explain the problem and then propose an improvement that would make it work.
  • When you do not understand the idea, don’t simply say, “That’s unclear to me.” Instead, first point to the specific spot that is unclear and then propose possible alternative interpretations: “Do you mean X or Y?” This helps all participants to see more detailed options
  • When you like the idea, do not just take it as it is. Instead, search for possible improvements and then push forward to make it even better.
  • When you listen to someone’s critique of your idea,try to learn from it. Listen carefully to the critique, be curious, and wonder, “Why is my colleague suggesting this contrasting view that is not in line with what I see? Perhaps there is an even more powerful idea hidden behind our two perspectives.” The critique becomes a positive force, focusing the team on overcoming its weaknesses and enhancing the original idea.

Good decisions require creativity. But flexing our practices we can drive that in our interactions.

Building relationships is critical for tackling complexity

If we want to address the complex problem situations that the world is facing, being a smart systems thinker and innovator is not enough. We need to engage in new ways of collaborating that promote continuous, productive and collective learning and innovation. These collaborations require us to learn social skills, build social structures, and adopt attitudes of openness to learning, trust and responsibility, however hard it is to let go of the behaviours and structures that hold us back.

Mieke van der Bijl “Why being smart is not enough — the social skills and structures of tackling complexity

Good article on problem-solving and complexity that is very sympathetic with Donella Meadows Leverage Points. This article and my recent post on creativity are both coming from similar points by stressing many of the same solutions to solving problems.

I liked the discussion on creating the right organization structures to allow problem-solving to happen. As someone who is very worried that can contribute to laying the bricks in Kafka’s castle and the bars in Weber’s Iron Cage, I am always striving to push for better ways of working, of creating structures that both amplify freedom and responsibility, that drive for innovation. Applying basic principles is pretty important to ensure we build for now and the future.

Creative teams

The secret to unlocking creativity is not to look for more creative people, but to unlock more creativity from the people who already work for you. The same body of creativity research that finds no distinct “creative personality” is incredibly consistent about what leads to creative work, and they are all things you can implement within your team. Here’s what you need to do:

Greg Satell “Set the Conditions for Anyone on Your Team to Be Creative”  05Dec2018 Harvard Business Review

In this great article Greg Satell lays out what an organization that drives creativity looks like. Facilitating creativity is crucial for continuous improvement and thus a fundamental part of a culture of quality. So let’s break it down.

Cultivate Expertise

In order to build expertise our organizations need to be apply to provide deliberate practice: identify the components of a skill, offer coaching, and encourage employees to work on weak areas.

Bring knowledge management to bear to ensure the knowledge behind a skill has been appropriately captured and published. To do this you need to identify who the expert performers currently are.

It is crucial when thinking about deliberate practice to recognize that this is not shallow work, those tasks we can do in our sleep. Unlike chess or weight-lifting you really do not get anything from the 100th validation protocol or batch record reviewed. For work to be of value for deliberate practice it needs to stretch us, to go a little further than before, and give the opportunity for reflection.

Geoff Colvin in Talent is Overrated gave six traits for deliberate practice:

  • It’s designed to improve performance. “The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. That may sound obvious, but most of us don’t do it in the activities we think of as practice.”
  • It’s repeated a lot. “High repetition is the most important difference between deliberate practice of a task and performing the task for real, when it counts.”
  • Feedback on results is continuously available. “You may think that your rehearsal of a job interview was flawless, but your opinion isn’t what counts.”
  • It’s highly demanding mentally. “Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration. That is what makes it ‘deliberate,’ as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.”
  • It’s hard. “Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that’s exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands.”
  • It requires (good) goals. “The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.”

Encourage Exploration

The Innovators DNA by Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen state that creativity is a function of five key behaviours

  • Associating: drawing connections between questions, problems, or ideas from unrelated fields
  • Questioning: posing queries that challenge common wisdom
  • Observing: scrutinizing the behavior of customers, suppliers, and competitors to identify new ways of doing things
  • Networking: meeting people with different ideas and perspectives
  • Experimenting: constructing interactive experiences and provoking unorthodox responses to see what insights emerge

Exploration can be seen as observing outside your sphere of knowledge, networking and experimenting.

Empower with Technology

Sure, I guess. Call me a luddite but I still think a big wall, lots of post-its, markers and some string work fine for me.

Reward Persistance

Remember this, we are always in this for the long haul. I think remembering the twelve levers can help give perspective.