How to Banish the “Yes! Buts...” From Your Organization

A fast-paced technical revolution is shaping today's world of work. To thrive, organizations must foster a culture of innovation and creativity. Can it be done? Here are three simple steps to make it a reality.

Male and female professionals brainstorming creative business solutions

Nothing can shut down a creative discussion faster than someone, especially a manager, saying “Yes, but …” Typically, it signifies a desire to cling to old ways of doing things—a mind-set that can doom a company in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace in which consumers prize innovation.
Nurturing creativity in organizations is more important than ever today for three reasons.
Customer needs have evolved. A world revolutionized through digital technologies is shaping new customer needs and expectations, and how organizations provide products and services. This includes banking transactions, transport systems, advertising media, and the availability of instantaneous on-demand mobile services. Loyalty no longer drives customers. Convenience, user-friendliness, and a “give me more than I need” attitude marks the difference. Without the creative mindset within our organizations, we cannot give customers the novel experiences they crave.
If you don’t think out of the box, someone else will. Whatever your industry, your competitors are increasingly willing and able to copy, modify, and then repackage your innovations. Technology is overcoming traditional barriers to market entry. The world is connected almost seamlessly, providing more opportunities for companies to enter the marketplace with products and services ready to compete with your own.
What used to work doesn’t work anymore. With the growing complexity of the VUCA world, we cannot continue doing what we’ve always been doing. The results are predictable and, over time, doomed to failure. Products and services have a life cycle. We cannot afford to stubbornly hold on to something that worked in the past. The past never changes, while the present is constantly changing. If we do not change, it will change us.
The conclusion is simple. If we want to stay on the forefront of the business world, we must be ready to hold up the torch and light the way to creativity. In the words of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk: we need “to boldly go where no man has gone before!”
So how do we get creative? It has to begin with mindset change. Have you heard the following exchanges in your organization before?
This type of response stems from an infectious disease I call “Yes-But-it is.” So, how do we prevent yes-buts? Let’s get pragmatic. In our daily work, we are always involved in projects, meeting and discussions. Imagine everyone contributing ideas, building on each other’s viewpoints, sharing and value-adding. Sounds amazing? Can it be done?  Here are three simple steps to make it a reality.
  1. Share the big picture. Have you tried driving a car by simply looking at the white lines on the road? It can be very challenging. Instead, we should drive focusing on our destination, and look further into the horizon. In every project discussion, start by sharing the big picture of why everyone is there. This simple practice will get everyone on the same page and sharing a common understanding of the desired outcome.When people begin to understand the “why” in any project, their minds can become free of existing constraints. It allows everyone to also see their own role and part they play in the greater scheme of things. Many great ideas that we see today began because someone thought of some impractical, crazy or wild ideas. And then that idea was built upon to reality.
  2. Establish ground rules in all meetings, projects and discussions. Throughout the world, a key component of great teams is a shared set of principles by which all agree and abide. Some useful ground rules include “wild ideas accepted” or “build on one another’s ideas” or “one conversation at a time.” Begin each session by recapping all the ground rules. This will set the stage for everyone in the room to at least have the right frame of mind, and overcome some of their fear of failure in sharing of ideas and opinions.
  3. Get practical -- make use of a service bell. Have one in each meeting room if you can. Bring one along for each meeting or discussion. The bell can be placed in the center of the table. When to use it? When someone uses some form of “yes-but,” anyone can ring the bell. This will serve as a gentle reminder to focus on building on each other’s ideas versus criticizing an idea. The bell is also useful to get the team discussion back on track.
Years ago, when I was a senior manager, I started these same three steps in our team discussions and meetings. Initially, it was met with reluctance and even suspicion. Soon, others began to adopt similar ground rules in their meetings. The big picture was also scribbled across the whiteboard when a meeting began. But most interesting was the bell – every time we began a meeting, someone would actually ask if someone had brought along the bell!
Start the mindset shift towards creativity today!
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