I often like to ask people where they find themselves when they have their greatest break-through ideas—that “a-ha moment”. I hear the same answers over and over:
“ In the shower!”
“On my drive home from work!”
“While I’m out on my run!”
“Bam!—in the middle of the night.”
I’m struck by how often the time and place that insight chooses to rear is not during the actual work itself. Great solutions rarely show up nice and tidy, conveniently scheduled for the precise moment we need them. Creating real and meaningful change, spurring innovation that separates you from the rest of the pack just isn’t a clean and linear process.
At ESInc, we partner with leaders to create effective work cultures. So often, our clients trying to enhance their culture by making it more nimble, more responsive, more innovative. They know they have a team of competent smart people—but somehow, new ideas aren’t being implemented.
When helping to design a more change-oriented culture, we like to explore 4 key disciplines we call “The 4 R’s”:
Research – Change-oriented teams are curious teams. They are far more interested in what others know than what they already know themselves. New knowledge is the foundation for new results.
Retreat – Innovative teams build in time to take a step back so they can take a bigger step forward. They take the time to explore new ideas and perspectives. They find ways to pull out of the hectic day-to-day world of execution so that they can recalibrate and aim for bigger leaps.
Realize – Change oriented teams focus on possibility. When new opportunities emerge, change-oriented teams are naturally inclined toward action, collaboration, and prototyping. Change-resistant cultures focus on flaws and dismiss possibilities.
Reveal – Change-oriented cultures actually do something with their new ideas. They embrace risk, they don’t avoid it. This sort of work requires a culture that supports vulnerability and deals with mistakes in productive ways.
This post is part of a series exploring all 4 disciplines and how they show up in organizational culture. Specifically, this time around we’re zeroing in on Discipline 3: Realize.
Cultures that embrace this discipline excel at capturing and real-izing realizations. They have practices for capturing new ideas and building on them.
When I ask people what they do after that brilliant 3 am realization hits, it too often elicits awkward silence. Many company cultures just don’t know what to do with new ideas—because they have nowhere to go, they go nowhere. Worse yet, many company cultures are all too practiced at shooting down new ideas.
Cultures with a strong Realize culture have what we call a “Yes, and…” mindset. “Yes, and…” is a tenet from the world of stage improvisation.
You may be familiar with improv from shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway or perhaps you’ve even seen a live improv performance yourself. Improv is a form of theater in which actors are not operating from a predetermined script. Instead, they are creating the show as they go, collaborating scene by scene by accepting an building off each other’s ideas.
To do this effectively, improvisers are expected to “Yes, and…” each other. That whatever idea is offered on stage, it is the responsibility of all the other actors to accept that reality and to build upon it.
For example, an actor might walk out on stage and say to another actor, “Mr. President, the French Ambassador is here to see you.” The other actor may not even have known a moment earlier that they were the president, but now that their colleague has presented this realization, their job is to accept that reality and build on it. So they might respond with something like, “Thank you, Charles. It’s about time we ended this escargot embargo!”
And off we go! The audience understands a bit about this world the actors are describing—ridiculous and snail-deprived as it might be—and our story-building is underway.
The opposite of “Yes and,” is always some form of “No.” To use our example above, instead of our second actor saying yes to the idea that they are the president, they might respond by saying something like, “What are you talking about—I’m not the president.”
When improvisers say no on an improv stage, everything comes to a screeching halt—they ere not building to anywhere. Ideas die as quickly as they arrive and nothing happens. The whole operation is stuck.
Change-resistant cultures have this same “No, but…” stuckness quality to them. Everything about the culture seems to run counter to a belief in new possibilities: there are no natural forums to bring up or discuss new ideas; when new ideas are brought up, the first response is to poke holes and explain why they won’t work. If the sentiment that we have a way of doing things around here, don’t mess with it isn’t said out loud, it’s certainly understood.
To break the hold of a “No, but…” culture, we sometimes work with teams to practice “Yes, and.”
When faced with a new or persistent problem, we try to generate as many ideas as we can. Then we build on those ideas to see what new insights and possibilities emerge. It’s not unusual for us to fill conference room and hotel boardroom walls with post-it notes and flipchart sheets chock full of potential solutions and opportunities.
Of course, no organization has the resources to pursue every idea. But every organization needs room to explore a wide range of ideas before they narrow their focus and move on to the work of executing on their very best ideas. (More on execution in the next post on Discipline 4: Reveal.)
For now, here are some practical ways to practice the discipline of Realize in your organization:
Choose a challenge your team is facing. Generate 10 different ideas as to how to address that problem. Choose 3 of those ideas and “Yes, and…” them by taking 10 minutes to draft out a mini-plan building out each approach.
Create an “idea box” or set up an firstname.lastname@example.org email address. Have a team meeting once a month to review and explore the very best ideas.
Recognize when team members are reflexively shooting down ideas and call each other on it. Invite to have a short “Yes, and” conversation focussed on opportunity first. Promise that the second part of the conversation will look for flaws to address.
Build a practice of capturing and valuing your own ideas. Start a running list in a file on your computer. Keep a notepad on your bedstand. Record voice memos on your phone. The medium doesn’t matter, just capture them!
To realize great results you need to make of the most of the realizations on your team. Yes, and!