How to “Yes, And” Bad Ideas

Businessman covering his face in frustration and holding his hand out to stop another person from talking

Image credit: krakenimages.com

(And Why It's Important)

“Because it's a stupid idea. No one's gonna go for it. Don't you understand? It's stupid. It's stupid…”

-Seinfeld; Season 22, Episode 7:  The Invitations

I recently presented a keynote for a conference on using “yes, and” to increase innovation. One of my main points was the importance of saying “yes, and” to ideas that are bad, stupid, impossible, etc. This is because:

  1. It gets the idea out of your head to make room for new ones

  2. Sometimes a bad idea can be the launching point for a better idea.

After the talk, an attendee came up to me and asked, ”What do you do if an employee just keeps suggesting bad ideas?”

Hmm…good question.

On the one hand, I truly believe that everyone has a creative genius inside of them. On the other hand, it was wholly possible that someone on their team kept coming up with only bad ideas. 

How do you say “yes, and” to a person if their ideas are always bad?

I thought about it for a moment and then gave him a few suggestions, then thought of a couple more later on. Maybe one of these can help you if you have someone in your work or personal life who only puts forth bad ideas.

  1. Say “Yes, And” and Ask a Question. Instead of shutting them down with a “yes, but,” ask them how their suggestion fits into the overall goals, mission, or values of the team. For example, “Yes, that is an interesting idea, and how do you see that fitting into the goals we are talking about in this meeting?” If they don’t have a good answer, they have taken care of the issue themselves. If they come up with a good answer, then perhaps you should reconsider their “bad” idea.

  2. Use “Yes, And” to Redirect. This is a bit of an advanced technique that takes a little practice. Instead of accepting their idea as-is, accept the premise of their idea and then use “and” to connect it to a different, more acceptable idea. For example, “yes, I understand your suggestion is that we spray paint llamas as a way of drawing attention to our brand, and that actually is similar to this idea we had about getting attention with visual marketing. Let’s explore that aspect some more.”

  3. Set Guidelines and Constraints at the Top of the Meeting. This variation of #2 may be necessary when an employee consistently comes up with ideas that are really bad and/or irrelevant. It allows you to redirect them by saying, “yes, and how does that fit into the discussion guidelines we set?” 

  4. Let Them Explain Their Idea. The tough thing to accept is that even though you think the idea is bad, the other person obviously thinks it is good. Let them explain their thinking. Be present and ask genuine questions. Who knows, maybe they will inspire you to have a new, creative idea. If not, you can say, “no” or “yes, but” at that point, but you will be doing it in a way that protects the relationship.

If these techniques don’t help, then there are always more drastic actions such as getting them training, or removing them from future creative sessions.

Remember; “yes, and” isn’t about accepting and acting on every idea you come across. It’s a mindset that opens up your creativity and makes sure you give your people the best opportunity to succeed.

How about you?

Do you have any other techniques you have used to deal with an employee that keeps coming up with “bad” ideas? I’d love to hear about them!

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