Breakthroughs come from leveraging the contrasts that come from critiques, not from avoiding them.
I read an interesting article from Harvard Business Review last month. In Why Criticism Is Good for Creativity, Roberto Verganti and Don Norman make a strong case for why avoiding criticism and subscribing to the “Yes, and…” rule are flawed methods, especially in creative collaborations. Their way of thinking is that if we use the “Yes, and…” method to encourage someone to expand on the original idea without actually pointing to a flaw, we’re encouraging “design by committee and [infusing] a superficial sense of collaboration that leads to compromises and weakens ideas.”
Rather than using “Yes, and…” — or even its opposite “Yes, but…” — Verganti and Norman propose we use “Yes, but, and…” That way we’re not using either criticism (“Yes, but…”) or ideation (“Yes, and…”) by itself. That way, we’re getting the best features of both criticism and ideation.
Note that the ‘but’ anticipating the ‘and’ is essential. In order to build on your idea, your colleague does not just add a new improved proposal. First, she provides a critique, which enables you to receive precious and specific information, see weaknesses in your half-backed idea you couldn’t spot yourself, and therefore learn. You and the entire team will then be ready to dive deeper into the next iteration. It is the combination of ‘but’ and ‘and’ that creates real progress, enabling the team to see both positive and negative components and allowing each iteration to go even deeper into the analysis.
So, when you’re critiquing someone else’s idea with “Yes, but, and…” it’d go something like this:
- You see a weakness in their idea. Instead of just saying “This doesn’t work,” you explain the problem you see and offer an idea on how to make it work.
- You don’t understand the idea. Instead of saying “This doesn’t make sense to me,” explain which part is unclear and then suggest alternative interpretations to help everyone see detailed options.
- You like the idea. Instead of being content with that, first see if there are any possible improvements to make it even better.
What about when someone else is critiquing your idea? Verganti and Norman say:
[…] when you listen to someone’s critique of your idea, you should try to learn from it. A practical way is to listen carefully to the critique, be curious, and wonder, ‘Why is my colleague suggesting this contrasting view that is not in line with what I see? Perhaps there is an even more powerful idea hidden behind our two perspectives.’ The critique becomes a positive force, focusing the team on overcoming its weaknesses and enhancing the original idea.
(We’re going to dive more into handling critiques and criticism later.)
How do you feel about the “Yes, but, and…” method? Do you believe criticism is crucial to creativity, or do you subscribe strictly to the “Yes, and…” method — promoting and building an idea without providing critical feedback?