Build Up, Don't Knock Down

This is sometimes described as learning to say 'Yes, and .. .' rather than 'Yes, but ... '. Any new idea may include lots of problematic elements, and the newer the idea, the more problematic it is likely to be. It is therefore very easy to kill ideas by highlighting their weaknesses.

However, this will often 'throw the baby out with the bath water'. Even the silliest, weirdest or most impracticable of ideas will contain one or two per cent of potentially viable material or can be used as what de Bono referred to as an 'intermediate impossible' - a stepping-stone to other, more directly usable ideas.

'Building' techniques are extremely powerful, often very portable and can have very positive secondary effects:

  • They allow you to take virtually any input - a random piece of news, a nonexpert's misunderstanding, a tedious discussion with the office bore or an accidental meeting - and get useful ideas from it.
  • They can help you to remain attentive and interested longer, and more often.
  • The other people involved will also tend to feel encouraged by having their tentative ideas valued and being helped to build them into realistic and acceptable plans.
  • This is the kind of experience that people want to try again, from which they learn a lot and which leaves them valuing you and the organisation.

Here are some suggestions that people often find useful for building on existing ideas:

  • Give priority to the useful aspects ('Yes, that idea would let us .. .').
  • Express problematic aspects in a form that allows them to be tackled ('That idea raises an interesting problem. I wonder how we could .. .').
  • Combine the idea with other ideas.
  • Transform the idea in various ways (e.g. bigger, smaller, reversed, changed roles).
  • Represent it in a different medium (draw it, role-play it, sculpt it, etc.).
  • Reframe the idea (i.e. see it from someone else's viewpoint, from a different hierarchical level, in different contexts or on different time-scales).
  • Use the idea to start a train of thought (in which case many of the other building mechanisms may be at work in a more or less automatic way - the more practised you are, the more automatic they become).

Derek Cheshire is an expert, speaker, consultant and facilitator in the areas of Business Creativity, Innovation and Idea Generation. He is creator of the Innovation Toolkit, and co creator of workshops such as Creating The Difference, Creativity as a Business Tool, Sticky Strategy and The Idea Factory.

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