At every Ideas To Go session, we work to create an environment where every idea is valued. To do this, we use a method called Forness® thinking. This method encourages a mindset and response of positivity—what you're "for"—rather than a response of negativity—what we call a "yes, but" response. The result of a "yes, but" response is that new ideas die out, progress stalls, ideas get safer instead of more innovative, and team members quit contributing altogether.

Unfortunately, the dreaded “yes, but” is a common response during brainstorming sessions. Over our 35 years in business, we’ve heard some Yes But doozies. Here are a few of my favorites:

“We’ve Tried That Before” and “We’ve Never Tried That Before.”  Once during a session, I asked participants to shout out the “Yes Buts” that they’ve heard before. One person said one of the above statements and another person said the other. We all laughed for minutes—because between the two of those statements, that rules out the ENTIRE UNIVERSE of ideas.

“George” won’t like it.  This one drives me nuts because it deflects the killing of the idea onto someone who isn’t even in the room. George may be the boss or the boss’s boss, but don’t “yes but” on behalf of another person—who knows, that person may just love the idea! 

“We tried something like that before.”  Often when I hear this, it is for an idea that is really NOTHING like this idea. It may have one attribute out of 20 the same as the old idea, but people are so willing to bring down the whole idea because it was similar in some small way. 

“Our competitors haven’t done it yet.”  Really? It isn’t a good idea unless your competitors have done it? Do you really think so much of them and so little of yourselves? 

These are just a few of the things we've heard in session—things you should avoid saying in order to stay open to any and all possibilities.

Ban the Yes, ButSo next time you hear someone pipe up with an idea, instead of immediately responding with a "Yes, but," first focus on the qualities of an idea that drive toward achieving the greater goal—what you're "for." Identify all the valuable elements in each idea and then carry them forward. Once you've identified what you're "for," the Forness® thinking method goes a step further in challenging barriers and concerns by encouraging you to think about what you "wish for"—elements you would add, change or subtract from an idea in order to improve it. In this way, problems become opportunity areas for ideation instead of roadblocks.

When you look at the good in every idea, your project moves forward faster, participants are encouraged and engaged, and ideas stretch further. In this way ideas not only survive, they have a chance to grow—so truly transformative change can make even the impossible possible.

Christine Haskins is an Innovation Process Consultant and Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.

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Emeritus Facilitator Christine Haskins

Christine Haskins is an Emeritus Facilitator and Former Vice President of Customer Experience at Ideas To Go. She worked with customer-centered innovation for Fortune 500 companies across all market categories and industries.