Why ‘yes and…’ isn’t the same as ‘and not but’.

This piece was evoked in response to this article:


My context is similar: a facilitator working with a group, seeking to change the processes of the group in some fashion, in the context of creativity.

(Although to be honest, I’m less interested in creativity, which implies for its own sake, than I am in innovation and improvement. I’m probably being picky, mind.)

Here’s their approach:

” We believe that the climate for creative ideas can often be negative. As a shorthand, we talk about a YES BUT climate in which people are prone to respond to any new idea with a ‘Yes But’.  This negative mind-set is based on unconsciously held beliefs and we can weaken these by becoming conscious, to the extent of becoming self-conscious of ‘Yes Butting’. In this way we begin to reduce the damage caused by excessive Yes Butting by substituting ‘Yes and’.

“‘Yes but’ implies ‘There is something wrong with this idea. I want nothing further to do with this bad idea’. In contrast, ‘Yes And’ implies ‘There is something that can be improved about this idea. I am willing to work at it to improve it as best I can’. To take a simple example: ‘I have just thought of the idea of flypaper to go in cars to stop insects distracting you when you are driving’. ‘Yes But … wherever you put it someone would get stuck sooner or later’.”

This approach seems to me to be very controlling and very dependent on the facilitator’s judgements about contributions. (I’ll come back to the ‘c’ word shortly.)

( BTW, there exists an well-developed and researched approach to creativity which is predicated on seeing something bad and getting angry enough to want to improve it. That approach is usually the province of the solo inventor, rather than the group, which is why it’s in brackets here: it’s off-topic.)

‘But’ isn’t necessarily negative!

My own approach isn’t about control of content nor process, although it is a form of ‘control’ in that it is about opening up the ‘possibility space’,  preventing argument and tolerating difference: anti-control, if you will.


The effect of ‘yes and’ is quite different to the effect of ‘and-not-but’.

‘Yes and’ requires the second person to agree with the first person: so, in their example, when I say ‘yes and’, I’m agreeing with the flypaper suggestion, no matter how stupid I might think it is, because, if I’m required to use the ‘yes and’ construction, I HAVE to agree with the previous comment.

There is also an implicit sequence to it: I say one thing, you add something to it;  one thing has to follow another.

Whereas with ‘and-not-but’, we have one statement made, followed by another statement made: the two don’t have to agree with each other or even relate to each other, because, as I often say,  “more than one thing can be true at once”.  The statements don’t have to follow each other, nor do they have to relate to each other, they are simply two statements which exist in the same space — the space that I like to call ‘the cloud of contradiction’ (which isn’t necessarily a cloud of contradiction, it could be a cloud of irrelevance or of agreement; the reason I call it ‘the cloud of contradiction’ is to emphasize the ‘andness’ rather than the ‘butness’).

If you were to use the ‘yes and’ formulation, it would, ironically, be taking place within the Dominant Rational Model that Tudor Rickards is critiquing. Generating emergence would be much more difficult if not actually impossible, because the ‘yes and’ formulation forces you to work in a linear fashion.

Actually, It’s, not so much that it forces you,  as that it fails to disrupt the already taken-for-granted, linear, supposedly rational, approach; whereas my ‘and-not-but’ is about nudging the group’s thinking out of that unquestioned  approach.

When we look at group dialogue* (rather than discussion), it isn’t NECESSARILY about action or selling a plan, it’s about DISCOVERY.

Action may emerge, or it may not, and-not-but the process is about discovering what we think, or want or prefer. It seems to me that any more controlled process than this will be anti- rather than pro- creativity.

There is a whole separate piece about the difference between ‘controlling process rather than controlling content’ waiting to be written, and a another piece about the paradoxical control that is about keeping a space open for emergence, the control that seeks to block control: ‘anti-control’, if you will. I should write them…

I should also say that all this is predicated on notions such as:

•  ‘you can’t push the river’ (paraphrasing Heraclitus),
• you can’t control my reaction you can only trigger** it, and that
• ‘the group is wiser than the individual’

(The latter being generally a total overstatement — groups are all too often stupid — the wisdom of a group only applies in the special contexts we are discussing here).

In conclusion, this is why I say you can’t ‘manage complexity’, you can only navigate complexity.


‘And-not-but’ was first published in my book ‘Navigating Complexity’, as was “more than one thing can be true at once”.
*see the Dialogue chapter in my book.
**see the Autopoiesis chapter.
Possibility Space also has is own chapter (when I started to write this I don’t intend to be promoting my book to quite this extent.)

          ~ Thanks to Tom Hitchman for evoking this. ~

2 thoughts on “Why ‘yes and…’ isn’t the same as ‘and not but’.

  1. Thanks for the response. Looking at the titles of your posts, I suspect we share quite a few beliefs, although approaching issues from different perspectives. As indicated, the Yes And material is a starting point for discussion based on 1990s materials. I republished in advance of workshops on leadership later this week with around 100 health professionals.

    I am pleased to receive additional comments such as your own.

    Best wishes.

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