from Deborah Perry Piscione‘s popular book The People Equation: Why Innovation Is People, Not Products
One of the key differences between being a manager and being a leader is the focus from what you do in business to how you get things done. How do you enable employees who have good ideas to build upon them in a safe environment and make them great, free from the burden of bureaucracy? How do you start from a place of trust and measure results, not just in increments of time, but also by creative pursuits, productivity, and overall outcome?
Corporate culture, by definition, is the set of operating principles that people within the organization adopt, whether it is consistent with their value systems or not. People within the organization become indoctrinated into that culture, inevitably learn how best to function within it. Oddly enough, this assimilation makes them resistant to change, usually because of a lack of trust or fear whenever something new or different is introduced. By human nature, people are more comfortable falling back into old habits. Therefore, creating cultural change is just plain difficult, often so problematic that it can be accomplished only in the context of another, larger disruption to the organization.
But there is hope. A simple discipline can radically change your culture to a more open, creative, impassioned environment. It starts with “Yes, and…..”
Cultures of How avoid the dampening of spirits and the atrophying of our innovation muscles by instead responding with “Yes and…..”. In the language of “Yes and…..” when you are greeted with a new idea, you respond in the affirmative and then try to redirect or build on the idea in a way that makes it more productive for everyone involved, especially the organization. This does two things:
- It helps integrate the idea into your own thinking. The notion of Yes and….. is a useful device to force you to consider fully how you can make use of the idea. It doesn’t eliminate the possibility of eventual rejection…it simply suspends any rejection until all ideas have been played out and the initial premise has been more fully developed into something better and more useful.
- It encourages the suggestor to come up with a further, richer, more deeply held idea that can enable further progress.
This practice was in plain sight at the Hacker Dojo in Mountain View, California, where a group of robotics hobbyists gathered to build robots on the weekend. This all-volunteer group met on Saturdays and included a variety of interesting people: a former NASA scientist, a pioneering senior computer engineer, a precocious software engineer who was an entrepreneur in his teens, and a retired Lockheed-Martin satellite guidance systems engineer, among many others. The team was trying to solve the problem that robots, without a good guidance system, don’t know where they are. The retired Lockheed engineer had an idea for how to solve this problem. Satellites solve a similar problem by looking at patterns of stars. He reasoned that in the same way, the robot could look at lights on the ceiling and thereby figure out its location.
The beauty of “Yes, and…” is that it discards judgement, focusing only on boundless expansion of ideas…don’t worry, the judgements will come later. A set of next steps should be planned out to enable the idea to move as far forward as it genuinely has legs to do so.
Innovating is a vulnerable activity because it intrinsically deals with uncertainties. Human biology is built label uncertainties as threats, engaging our “fight or flight” response. Heck, if you knew what the outcome would be, it wouldn’t be innovation. So permitting people to fail is critically important. Providing allowing for failure, you build the psychological safety it takes to free the mind to imagine and be creative.
“For an idea that does not at first seem insane, there is no hope.” — Albert Einstein
Innovation always requires exploring new and unproven territory. By its very definition, innovation implies driving into a space beyond which all previous innovators have gone. If a person is innovative, they are always trying for something that has never been done — or trying something that others have attempted but failed. Frequently, the initial attempt of an idea is flawed. Yet in the act of trying, one might stimulate others to have ideas that are sometimes slightly better than the last.
The alternative, which is all too common today, is to limit new ideas from all corners of an organization and instead pay premium prices for great innovative ideas from outside the company.