By Darcy Provo, Senior Counselor at Landis Communications, Inc.
A mere three letters each, these two words, AND and BUT, are miles apart in the places they can take you. One sets you up for possibilities, and the other tells the listener that something negative is coming. You remember, “Hey, I really like you, but…” We know where that usually goes.
I long ago banished the word “but” from my vocabulary. It’s was a challenge, to be sure. Even now, whenever I feel it starting to creep up, I try hard to think of a different way to say what I need to say without using it. Most of the time, I’m successful.
Recently I attended a three-day Stanford Alumni Creative Camp. At its conclusion, we shared our thoughts about what we learned and what made the greatest impression on us. It was unanimous: Our number one take-away involved those two crazy little three-letter words, AND and BUT.
Specifically, it was their use in the phrases “Yes, AND” and “Yes, BUT,” which came up in the context of a discussion about and demonstration of “design thinking” and creativity. Try the exercise they had us do, and you’ll immediately understand why we focused on these words.
Gather a small group of people and pretend you are planning an activity. The first person proposes an idea: “Let’s have a Halloween party. Wouldn’t that be fun?” After that, each sentence starts with “Yes, but.” For example, “Yes, but, people associate Halloween with spiders so they’ll be in a constant state of fear.” “Yes, but there’s no good food for Halloween except for candy and everyone will get sick.” Before long, we were all miserable. This party was going to be a disaster. The idea died.
Next, we tried planning the same party, only we used “Yes, AND” to begin every sentence. We were lifted by the group’s energy and enthusiasm, and the ideas just kept flowing and building. You definitely would have wanted an invitation to this party.
Whether you’re planning a party; conducting a business meeting, or having a casual conversation with a friend, if you want to promote openness, creativity, possibility, collaboration and cooperation, banish the B-word forever and instead go with “Yes, AND.” And yes, you’ll be a whole lot smarter, happier and productive.
To learn about design thinking, check out the blog by Tim Brown of Ideo, and look at Stanford’s d school website for activities you can try at your office (or at home) to discover the usefulness of design thinking. Apparently “Yes, AND” and “Yes, BUT” are warm up exercises for Improvisational Theatre. Who knew? Check out these demonstrations: Yes, BUT and Yes, AND.