Even though I have a Visioning-Exploring Profile and I love to come up with new ideas, I was thoroughly surprised to discover that I was unknowingly suppressing other people’s ideas. Before I learned about the Innovation Styles, I was convinced that I was an open-minded, curious person; but then my eyes were opened.
Several years ago I was observing a workshop that William was leading on innovation. He facilitated a fun exercise called “Yes but… Yes and…” with about 30 senior managers of a cement company in India. It was a powerful exercise that clearly demonstrated some of the reasons we are not as creative as we could be, especially in a group at work.
The exercise goes like this… Part one is where the group focuses on generating creative ideas for a specific challenge. One person starts by suggesting a creative idea. Another person responds by saying, “Yes, but…” and then says why that first creative idea wouldn’t work, and instead suggests another idea. The next person once again responds with “Yes, but…”, and after giving reasons why the other person’s idea won’t work, goes on to suggest a new idea. This continues in the same pattern for some time.
In part two of the exercise, the group again focuses on creating ideas for a specific challenge, but in a different manner. After the first person has suggested a creative idea, the next person says, “Yes, and…” and adds another creative idea. The next person responds with, “Yes, and…” and once again gives another idea. This continues until a rich bouquet of creative ideas has been generated.
To complete the exercise, the group discussed how each of the approaches felt and the difference between the two. Inevitably, people felt that the “Yes, and…” approach was more creative, productive and fun. Yet, most participants readily admitted that “Yes, but…” was the approach they were most familiar with in their daily work.
As I observed the exercise, I was feeling quite proud of myself, certain that I was practicing the “Yes, and…” approach. But then reality sank in. Upon returning to my daily work, I began to see how often I reacted with “Yes, but…” rather than “Yes, and…”
As I pondered why I had this tendency, especially since I thought I was such an open-minded person, William helped me to see what was happening. He opened my eyes to why it is so important to separate out the “idea generation” process from the “idea analysis and selection” process. When we try to analyze the ideas at the same time we are trying to generate new ideas, it closes down the idea generation process, thus killing ideas that might otherwise lead to new solutions.
The idea generation process, as he describes, is like laying out a buffet table. It’s important to populate the buffet table with as many ideas as possible, not being concerned about whether they are workable or not. This is how you are able to generate a more comprehensive set of ideas and keep building on the ideas of others. Then in the analysis and selection phase, that is where you look more closely at the ideas to determine if they are worth pursuing.
So now every time I hear myself say “Yes but…” a bell goes off in my head, reminding me to stop and see if I am suppressing an idea prematurely. I have to admit it always makes me smile to catch myself unknowingly doing this. It has certainly become a humbling process of new learning for me and it just goes to show… maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks!
See if you can “catch yourself” suppressing an idea (it may be your own or someone else’s). If you do, conduct a little analysis and try to pinpoint patterns that you may not be aware of. I’m sure we can all learn from everyone’s confessions!
"Be the change before you lead the change"