Why "Yes, if" will be your new credo

The chief knowledge officer of Rubicon Project gives three reasons to take a new approach when saying "yes"

As Rubicon Project’s chief knowledge officer, I deal with a lot of questions. I head The Garage, the company’s innovation lab. We embrace the scientific process there… and that means there are a lot of "What ifs?" and "If, thens."

A trend in media right now is the concept of "Yes, and." Comedienne and writer Tina Fey even describes "Yes, and" as an approach to life. This is a great approach to start using if you’re naturally a "no" person. And rightly so. In our modern era, we’re inundated with a constant influx of data, and seem to live in a perpetual state of information overload. "No, because" has become a coping mechanism, our go-to knee-jerk response. Would you like to sign this petition? "No, because…" Would you like a free..? "No, because… ." Sometimes, we even rehearse our Nos. We justify saying "no" to an event before we’re even invited, or "no" to an ask before we’re even approached.

The problem is that "No, because" doesn’t work with innovation, or anything creative for that matter. It doesn’t foster ideas, or inspire disruptive thought. It can actually nip something great in the bud before it even begins to take root. While many people struggle to overcome their "no" instincts, I’ve had the opposite problem. As a natural enthusiast, my gut reaction is a hard YES. I like jumping in with both feet. I can’t half-do anything. A lot of people with my personality type struggle with the "Yes, and" trend. We already say yes all the time! Life is a constant Yes. That’s a given. But a simple rote affirmative doesn’t expand our worldview or force us into new territory. It doesn’t push us to discover options, or actualize potentials.

That’s why, when it comes to life, and especially when it comes to business, I’ve found that a "Yes, if" approach is game-changing. Let me break "Yes, if" down for you. 

"Yes, if" means, YES I’d like to collaborate, IF we can agree on this other x factor as well. "If" means there are set conditions. It means we’re not going to just blindly agree. Here are three reasons I like the "Yes, if" approach, and I think it should be your new credo. I encourage anyone to practice living this way for 24 hours. You might be surprised by the results.

 "Yes, if" creates reciprocity: If you put a condition on a yes, you’re asking the other person to step up to the table. A basic law of successful human interaction is what social psychologists call "the Rule of Reciprocity": it’s what trusting relationships are built on. Every successful interaction hinges on an equal exchange: a tit for tat, a quid pro quo. There’s no quid for quo without the quo. When you simply say YES, you’re actually preventing a dual dialog, and interrupting the natural order of reciprocity. You’re not inviting the other person to participate. And it’s only through participation that powerful innovation can occur. Another win of  "Yes, if" is that it creates a lot more meaningful, trusting and longer lasting relationships over time by necessitating that each person have skin in the game. Whether you’re a startup, influencer, or entrepreneur, "Yes, if" can be tremendously powerful in establishing a dual dialog, which catalyzes innovation and progress.

"Yes, if" fosters discovery: Creative solutions are often a product of reaching farther than you think possible; going above and beyond, and manifesting potentials. To drop into that mindset, sometime you have to be challenged. That’s why "Yes, if" is so effective. The "if" presents a challenge: A bar to meet, or a new goal to aim for. A key element of the scientific process is testing a hypothesis. Similarly, "Yes, if" embraces the scientific approach: it allows you to treat the decision like an experiment and approach a decision or experience with a spirit of open inquiry. Given this x mitigating factor, this y reaction might occur. With this approach, you allow for unforeseen outcomes, and fresh creative solutions. Alternatively, when you give a rote "Yes" or "No" response, you don’t discover anything new. "Yes, if forces you beyond the blind 'yes' and creates a value exchange among parties.

"Yes, if" facilitates disruption: Lastly, and most importantly perhaps, "Yes, if" gives you a chance to see what would happen given a wild card, mitigating condition. It throws an unexpected variable into the formula, which changes outcomes in a unique and innovative way. Bobby Kennedy once famously said, "Some people see things as they are and say, Why? I dream things that never were and say, Why not?" Or, as Henry Ford put it, "whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right." The "if" allows us to dwell in possibility, and ask a possibility to become an actuality. Think of Netflix: "YES, the consumer experience would be improved by getting DVDS in the mail... but what IF we could make the movie experience instantaneous - through streaming?" And so Netflix irrevocably changed the entertainment industry. They actualized an "if" that appealed to the next generation of cord-cutters, happy to consume entertainment on their computers, smart TVs and mobile devices. Brick-and-mortar video stores like Blockbuster became obsolete. Even entertainment monoliths like HBO had to change their business model to adhere to Netflix’s vision of entertainment distribution. That’s the power of acting on an "if."

Now, you might say that’s all well and good for Netflix. But how does "Yes, if" work at an individualized level? This is why "Yes, if" thinking is so awesome. "Yes, if" thinking can shift a paradigm. But it can also alter your everyday. Let’s take a couple mundane hypotheticals. Here are a couple ways: Yes, if can completely change a situation. You’re at a bar, and about to call it for the evening (insert two examples). Now, I dare you to put "Yes, if" to the test. It’s actually easier than you might think. Try it yourself. Right now.

Ultimately, "Yes, and" is a wonderful reaction to the "No, because" mantra society has adopted. But I’d like to encourage anyone who’s like me, and naturally lives in the world of the affirmative, to try "Yes, if" on for size. "Yes, if" is a great way to approach work, but also life. As a natural "yes" person, I’ve learned the hard way that, you have to set conditions. Yes, let’s us play the game. If we set ourselves up for success. That’s how you create a paradigm for winning in decision making. You might also find that in embracing "Yes, if," you facilitate reciprocity, discovery and disruption in your life and in your business.



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