A Thought Exercise to Understand ‘Yes, and’

Imagine you show up to a facilitated session to solve a problem.

There are 8 of you in the room. The facilitators tell choose a team leader using the following exercise.

Your team must plan a four-course meal. On a piece of paper, each person writes down an appetizer, main course and dessert. Whoever can convince their team to use the most number of their courses in the meal is the team leader. You have five minutes.

How ‘Yes, and’ Differs

Alternately, you can have everyone in the room get in a circle. You’re going to plan a picnic. Go around the room once and have everyone bring something to the picnic.

How does this feel different? Did themes crop up? Did you learn anything about people from what they chose to bring? Did you come up with something more interesting or diverse?

In the first scenario, you are limited to 24 ideas at the most. What if 8 different people wanted steak for their entrees? You are missing 7 opportunities for thought diversity. In choosing your dishes first, you are stuck. Then, by arguing over them each person who wants to lead will become more entrenched in their decisions. The first scenario sets up a zero sum game; when you win, I lose and vice versa. Even if you would rather have the lasagna (now that I think about it…) you can’t go with the Bob’s choice without losing power.

In the second scenario, you have a completely flat hierarchy. Each person contributes part of the meal. Each person will also tailor their answer based on the previous answers. For example, if Gina says, “fried chicken,” I can change my “fried chicken” answer to “gravy” to go on the chicken. I am being responsive and contributing thought diversity. I am also building a more complex solution.

In the second scenario, even though you only have 8 items explicitly called out, you retain a nearly infinite number of solutions. For example, what if the last person adds a “tour van” to the picnic. Not only do you have a varied meal, it can also be held anywhere within driving distance. You have introduced new elements of space and time to your solution.

The second scenario also allows for a leader to grow organically as needed. Leaving this as an open ended question allows for greater ideating until leadership is actually needed.

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