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Innocuous and common, this little word that does not even qualify for 4-letter status. Yet it has the power to change the world. Well, your world anyway!

It was many years ago, when I was a consultant trying to contribute many levels above my experience that I worked with a great MD. He was one of those wise people, who have a huge impact on people’s lives. And he had a huge impact on mine with a small organisational initiative that turned his company around.

It was called the ‘both/and’ strategy. It was introduced to change the company from its approach of ‘either/or’.
In other words, the company culture would change from being one where everyone focused on how to choose between two options to one where everyone committed to working out a way to include all options in the final solution.

In human terms, instead of having to ask yourself ‘will I have trifle or chocolate cake?’; you would be able to ask instead ‘how could I have both trifle and chocolate cake?’ I am sure that those of you with a sweet tooth are thinking ‘what a nice strategy’!

Many of us are trained in our Western education system that having a choice is a good thing, and we learn how to make the best decision. What we don’t realise, is that having a choice means that we have to define the component parts of something and choose between them. This is an analytical and reactive approach that can mean we are trying to decide between a right way and a wrong way.

When we step into the ‘both and’ world, we move into a creative and innovative world that requires us to ask how is it possible to combine different approaches into something that is greater than their component parts. It is a world that ‘builds’ rather than ‘breaks down’. And the simple ‘both/and’ rule inspires everyone to explore how to increase capacity rather than how to simply maintain it.

As you can imagine this turned out to be an incredible and profoundly simple growth tool. It meant that everyone in the organisation had to take part in committing to looking for the more that might be available to them, which was a simple way to get everyone focused on growth and creativity.

In reality, once everyone committed to this strategy, it meant that the ‘yes butters’ were be silenced and the ‘yes anders’ given a place at the table. And in the beginning this is quite a hard thing to do.

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone, where you use the word ‘and’ every time you would rather use the word ‘but’. It is incredibly counter-intuitive to ban the ‘but’. It is also incredibly effective.

We have all been ‘yes butters’ at times in our lives. And when you try out the game suggested above, you might find that you habitually use ‘but’ more times than you would like to admit.

This is because the use of this small little word actually has a huge hidden purpose. It enables you to establish your place in the world. Each time you say ‘but’ you are silently, secretly saying I am right and you are wrong. The insidious commonness of the word ‘but’ in our language hides the fact that it negates all that lies behind it. As one coaching client put it: ‘everything before the ‘but’ is bollocks’.

And the problem is that once we have said one ‘but’ and felt the secret rush that comes with proving ‘I am right and you are wrong’, we find we have to stick to the argument. It becomes very hard to let go. If you have ever listened to a conversation that tips inadvertently into this style, you would notice that it becomes a series of ‘yes buts’ as each party holds onto their idea or argument and finds more creative ways to reinforce it.

Jane:     I think that the sky is the limit on this thing.
Jim:       Yes, but the sky is rather out of reach.
Jane:     Yes, but it gives a good challenging goal wouldn’t you say?
Jim:       Yes, but too much of a challenge is demotivational…

You get the picture? You might also notice that you don’t actually have to say the word ‘but’ to imply it. The impact is the same.

This conversation would stop if a ‘yes ander’ entered into it. The purpose of a ‘yes ander’ is to bring the two ideas together and create one greater idea.

Jerry:     Yes, and I think that it is possible to have both a challenging and a realistic goal. We just have to work out how we do that.

Which one do you think will grow the possibilities in this company? And if you were the boss, which one would you promote?

© Anne Fuller-Good
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