Updated: Jan 30
Even before I started my first business in the 90s, I was fascinated by human machine learning, interface design, language, and–later– the new discourse that emerged with the development of the public internet.
In those days, I was actually programming code (believe it, I hardly can), at a time when there were no rules around website structure or design. Netscape and Webcrawler were the cool kids. Google was just coming on and inputting webpages by hand. This was not that long ago. Perhaps 20 years. I was 27 years old and fresh out of graduate school. What did I know? Not much. Yet, a long time ago, I realized the power of saying "yes". For me, it's now my habit, and my nature, and probably the most important quality that I possess.
20 years later, my team and I have our eyes on what we believe tomorrow's communications is bringing and will bring. What we see today from communications styles, interface design, interactive, social, big data, cloud services, all of it, including visual and text language, is an animal that most companies have no idea about, sometimes curiously seem not to care about– and sometimes don't want to know about. The status quo is easy as there are no expectations or explanations needed. "Well, no" or "Yes, but" seem to be the styles of most people. The rare few simply say "yes". This is human nature, I suppose. Conservatism and fear are in-built into most companies, just as they are in most people; so it makes sense that many organizations are of a personality type and collective attitude that already predetermine its strategic direction and its decisions, without those driving the ship even realizing it. It comes from them. They would have to be conscious of their own biases first to break this spell. And many aren't even aware. This is an affliction of the big and the small, of seasoned CEO's running multibillion dollar companies to startups. What they all fail to realize is that it is their own personalities and ways of working that hold their companies and people back. Senior Management attitudes become the attitudes of staff. And then (sadly) customers. Bureaucratic, critical, political, and insular naysayers: blind to their own faults and dying slowly every day. "No." "Maybe." "Let's wait and see." These are the watchwords of dying companies and company cultures.
"Yes" is an extremely important concept and a powerful word. It even feels good to say. Say it a few times. Now try "no" a few times. Notice how both make you feel.
I have led major company and strategy revamps, facilitated tons of staff sessions and branding sessions, senior management retreats, realigned operations for companies, written HR policies, built strategies, you name it. So many people want to say, first: "we can't do that." I'm still shocked when I hear that. "We can't? Why?", is what I always ask. I'm almost always given some lame reason that doesn't stand up. I've never personally thought that NOTHING can be done, or believed it for myself or my clients. I have always been their biggest advocate, because every project or person needs one. Don't they? Even when they themselves (the project people) had doubts. There is strength in "yes, we can do this. Let's go!" What's the alternative? No? Maybe? Let's wait and see? Curl up in the foetal position in the dark in the bathtub and listen to The End by the Doors?
Forget that! How can you rally people to anything without "yes"? "Yes" matters. Because words matter so much to the way we think, feel, and see things. Our brains respond helplessly.
I have helped lead hundreds of projects and companies by being a "yes" man. I believe. I really do. Because when it comes to life and business, belief matters. Being real and involving the head and heart of organizations matters as much as it does with people. It all drives. Without it, people within companies sit back and watch and become critics rather than active, alive participants in a greater result or goal. There have been many times when I saw the "crab in the bucket" phenomenon, people pulling each other down, criticizing, dividing, souring, which is sad to see companies do to themselves and their people. It doesn't have to be this way.
Stop being the devil's advocate and start contributing. The devil needs no advocate. The marketplace is hard enough! Get out of your office, CEO, and talk to your people. Make them believe and believe in you. Look for solutions instead of problems.
Many times I have found myself as the strongest advocate for my clients' businesses and what was achievable. I would encourage them to have courage. To do things differently, to reach, even if it felt uncomfortable to them at first. When I first started to code websites out of graduate school, I had studied English literature. I had no experience in web development, publishing, or anything else for that matter. I said "yes", and learned myself. Just as I always have. Just as we all can and should. It's how I have approached every day and every client since. Let the power of "yes" into your business. And use it to drive strategic decision making and revive or refresh your people.
Ego drives everyone, and "no" people can do real harm. I have seen middle management set a firewall, shutting out progressive ideas because it's the safe thing to do. The reports "up" never say that, though. The same can be true of upper management. They are saying "no" for the company, downward, which affects morale and engagement, without leadership even realizing it's happening. I have seen this time and again. They themselves don't even realize they are "no" people. As successful as they sometimes outwardly still are.
The greater portion of today's companies are still stuck in old ways of doing and thinking, believing that tomorrow can always be dealt with tomorrow, and that they always know best because what they do now...works. Stop that. Say "yes" to something new and better. Start the habit today.