To achieve the brand result ditch ‘no because’ and embrace ‘yes and’

sales meeting

At a recent talk at the CPHR conference in Vancouver Canada, Duncan Wardle (past life head of innovation and creativity for Disney) ran an experiment where he asked the audience to respond to a set of ideas he mentioned with ‘no because’. He then asked people to use the flip of ‘yes and’ and illustrated the more generative mindset those two little words can spark.

Of course, anyone who has participated in improv will be familiar with the technique. In his enlightening and entertaining book If I understood you would I have this look on my face, actor and author Alan Alda (yes, that Alan Alda, aka Hawkeye from M*A*S*H) shows the immediate impact employing improv has on empathy and how people communicate and stay open to new ideas.

Alda’s Institute for Communication at Stony Brook University has helped 7000 science students, practitioners and researchers make their work easier to connect with. And beyond improving peoples ability to share complex scientific findings, the same approach is an invaluable practice for any organisation.

When people say ‘no we can’t because of X’, they are also saying we have to choose X or Y. ‘Yes and Y’ requires them to consider a solution using both. Sure, there will be times where ‘no/or’ is the right path, however, there are also many instances when it shuts down possibility and pathways to better outcomes.

Look across the landscape of any organisation and you will see plenty of ‘no/or’ thinking that should and could be ‘yes/and’. For example:

  • Profit or purpose;
  • Professional or human;
  • Expect accountability or care about people;
  • Make cost-effective products or protect the environment;
  • Get customer feedback or focus on what’s important;
  • Pursue sales or build relationships; and
  • Use hype or make promises you can keep.

The list could go on and on. The point is, in most cases, when you ask ‘how can we have this and that’, the very act of connecting things immediately multiplies the opportunities and ideas that emerge. Products become cost-effective and environmentally sound, profit emerges from adherence to the purpose, relationships lead to sales, promises grab people’s attention and are kept.

Back to improv. Playing ‘yes and’ will quickly take you places unencumbered by barriers of the current state. And, in fact, choosing one of those barriers and applying a bit of ‘and’ magic is a great way to leap over it.

This is a particularly powerful way to think as part of achieving your brand result. Counter-intuitively, the very act of aligning around what you care about can inadvertently lead to ‘or’-style thinking. Translating it to ‘and’ causes ideas and innovation follow. How can we care about this ‘and’ do that?

If you replace ‘and’ for each of the statements in the list above you will get a more robust, resilient organisation AND brand result — which in the end is the ‘and’ that matters most.

Where could ‘no/or’ be ‘yes/and’ in your organisation?

See you next week.

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