Be a “yes and” kind of designer when exploring new ideas with your team

“Yes and” vs. “Yes but”

So you’re exploring new ideas with the rest of your design team. The goal is to generate a bunch of ideas and pursue the most promising ones. These ideas will then be iterated on over and over again until your idea has become a solution to the initial problem. Easy enough right?

Brainstorming sessions with your team can be exciting! You are charging down the road towards new ideas. Here is where you can flex your creativity muscles and suggest that idea you were thinking about before you went to bed last night. The meeting begins with a lot of promise. Ideas start flying out from all over the room. There are whiteboards and sticky notes everywhere. After a few minutes the initial excitement wears off and people start looking around the room.

Your teammate suggests an idea she has had for the feature you are brainstorming for your product. Everyone in the room gives her attention. However, after she’s done presenting her idea a chorus of people offer her reasons why the idea won’t work.

Yes but the feature doesn’t address x or y!”

Yeah but x isn’t feasibly possible for our developers to even build.”

Cool idea but this isn’t realistic and I don’t understand why it would be x instead of y…

You can feel the energy drain out of the room as teammate after teammate offer the ideas they’ve brainstormed be shut down by the “yes but” critics. Eventually a few of the “best” ideas are chosen and thus ends the brainstorming session. You walk away just glad you didn’t share your craziest idea that might have gotten you booed out of the room 😂

Exploring new ideas together as a team can be a tricky part of the design process. It can be fun but also overwhelming. Brainstorming sessions can take forever and be dominated by the loudest most charismatic team members. They can be fruitless if ideas aren’t given proper space to grow. Some wonder if we should brainstorm in teams at all.

I think exploring new ideas together as a team is important when designing. Collaborating together and hearing a diverse set of ideas and feedback can help create stronger solutions. In order to do this it’s important to foster a culture of openness and trust between your team.

Ideas are fragile. It’s important to create a safe space for ideas, even the wild ones, to live, transform, and mature into well thought out solutions. A method you can implement to encourage ideas to flow freely is a strategy called “yes and”. It’s simple.

Whenever a teammate suggests an idea, no matter how crazy, you don’t shoot it down right away. You don’t offer critical feedback that shuts down the creator and their idea. You are patient and hopeful by answering with a “yes and…” then adding something on top of their idea. You say “yes and” in order to allow the idea space to grow into something better. By saying “yes” you acknowledge the person who had the idea and then foster collaboration by adding another idea on top of the suggested idea. It starts a conversation instead of shutting one down.

Here are a few distinctions between being a person that says “yes and” versus someone who is always saying “yes but”.

“Yes and”

  • Ideas are safe and accepted by the team no matter how “out there” they are — When you allow ideas to have the ability to thrive and flow freely between team members you create a safe space for your team to be creative. No longer are they worried about what others will think of their crazy idea. They offer it proudly knowing no idea is a dumb one when in the exploration phase.
  • Ideas are formed together — No egos with this method! “Yes and” encourages teamwork and collaboration. It’s not “my idea vs your idea”. It’s more like “here’s an idea I’ve had let’s work together to make it into a better one”.
  • Excitement and team morale builds — You avoid team members tuning out during the session because every idea is accepted and acknowledged. As more ideas are added to and built together you will feel the excitement level increase. This is the feeling of true teamwork taking place.
  • Ideas build on one another — Saying “yes and” when exploring new ideas allows you work together on the idea. You are able add to and suggest new directions to take the idea that you believe will help it grow into a solution. As this process happens around the room, more and more ideas are built and grow together into interesting concepts.

“Yes but”

  • Kills the idea too early — Your teammate suggests a wild idea and you tell them it’s a neat idea but it will never work. What has this done to help you explore together? Nothing. The idea dies before it ever has a chance to grow into something more with the teams help. “Yes but” stifles creativity and teamwork.
  • Ideas are solo— My idea is my idea and your idea is your idea. You critique mine and I will critique yours. You vs me. This creates an unhealthy environment where egos are on the line. This encourages competition between idea not teamwork through exploration.
  • Slows down the design process — “Yes but” creates long conversations about why an idea is bad. When you are exploring ideas you don’t want long conversations on each idea. You are focused on exploring a variety of ideas quickly.

Next time you are exploring new ideas with teammates try using the “yes and” method. You might be surprised with how many ideas you come up with and how it creates a healthy relationship between you and the rest of your team moving forward. Remember ideas are fragile. We need to everything possible to create an environment that encourages crazy ideas.


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