Christopher Keevil

One Reason Why I Love the Nonprofit Sector

Image: Maayan Ohayon

Image: Maayan Ohayon

At Wellspring Consulting, we work entirely with nonprofits. I am often deeply moved by the leaders in our client organizations, their selfless approach, and the missions they are serving.

I vividly remember one day when we were helping the leadership team at Open Circle rethink their pricing. Open Circle trains grade-school teachers in methods to help their students learn how to get along interpersonally. To assess Open Circle’s pricing, we studied their competitors, interviewed their customers, and built an economic model of their costs and revenues. We found that Open Circle could charge more for their services, and we suggested that they do so.  But Lisa Sankowski, Associate Director at Open Circle, pushed back, saying, “We wouldn’t want to charge the schools more. They’re already under enough economic hardship, and higher prices would only make it harder for them.”  So we chose not to increase prices to the schools. Instead, we presented funders and donors with a clear depiction of Open Circle’s economic model to demonstrate why additional support was needed. This worked. Open Circle raised more money and met their economic needs.

To me, Lisa’s response crystallizes something I love about the nonprofit sector, and which I have seen many times over. Leaders of nonprofit organizations care deeply about the ultimate wellbeing of their customers. Laura Walker, President and CEO of New York Public Radio stayed at the radio station through the terror of 9/11, keeping it open while the frightening chaos rained about their offices. Thanks to her bravery, listeners all over the city were helped in their response to the crisis. Debbie Bial, Executive Director at Posse Foundation – which supports low-income youth in going to top colleges – communicates an infectious enthusiasm about Posse’s kids, their talents and their potential. Through her leadership Posse now operates in ten cities across the country, and she has personally taken scores of photos of radiant young adults on their college graduation day, which now hang on the walls and website pages of the Foundation. And Kathy Douglass, who left a lucrative career as a partner at one of the top law firms in New York City, founded In Motion, an organization providing free legal services to victims of domestic violence. Over 20 years under her guidance, the organization has served thousands of women.

Daily, I am touched by such leaders’ caring, vision and tenacity. I believe in them, and what they are doing. I am stirred by the amazing ways they are making change happen. And through them, I am able to be a part of something much larger than myself.

Not Knowing. It leads to Great Strategy.

Unknown.jpg

When I was a Partner at The Boston Consulting Group, I participated in the Strategy Institute. A small group of partners and leading academics would come together several times a year to advance thinking about strategy – what it is, how it is conducted, and what makes it successful.

We agreed that the ability to enter into a state of unknowing was critical to great strategy. While it was important to gather facts, analyze data, create hypotheses and generate frameworks, we recognized that it was all too easy to jump to half-baked solutions if we weren’t willing to dwell in an I-don’t-know-the-answer-yet mindset.

I see the value of this mindset regularly in my current work with Wellspring Consulting, as we develop strategy with our nonprofit clients. This state of unknowing may last for 40 minutes in a project-team meeting in which we grapple with data and search for insight. It can last for weeks as a project team racks its collective brain for a strategic direction that is truly right for a client.

But by sustaining a state of unknowing, which can be anxiety-provoking as the clock is ticking and due dates are approaching, one has the ability to see new insights. It is like taking the time to look for patterns in the clouds and, all of a sudden, the shape of an angel appears. Something uncharted and undefined is recognized and defined. In the same way, with great strategy, a period of digging into an organization’s situation with an open mind leads to moments of insight, changing uncertainty about an organization’s future into a strategy. Strategy arrived at in this way is relevant, tailor-made, and empowering.

By the term “a state of unknowing,” I am not implying a lackadaisical attitude, uninformed by data, hypotheses, or past experience. There must be a pressure, an urgency in the midst of unknowing, an eager investigation of all available clues. Like a good detective without a moment to lose, the suspense is high. The hunt is on. It’s this tension between the state of not knowing and the urgent search for an answer from which the insight emerges. 

The capacity to remain in a state of unknowing while urgently looking for an insight is a skill worth having. It helps medical diagnosticians arrive at more on-target solutions for their patients. It helps parents know how to serve their children better. And it results in great strategies that further the future of organizations and their missions.

What is the Right Organizational Structure for Us?

Org chart 24Mar14-001
Org chart 24Mar14-001

Over the years, I have worked with Chief Executives seeking to get their organization's structure right. They have grappled with questions such as: Should we have a COO to oversee operations? Do we need Regional Directors to run areas of the country? What control should the national office have over local offices? To whom should the Development Director report? One way to answer such questions is to use objective criteria. For instance, a span of control greater than 6 or 7 is a stretch. Or, work conducted by senior people should be delegated down to those more junior wherever possible.

However, objective criteria alone cannot specify an organization's structure. There is the human factor to consider -- we all come with our idiosyncrasies. Take the case of a brilliant Program Director who is expecting a promotion to the COO position, but isn't strong in management and delegation skills. Moving someone else into the COO role could cause the Program Director to leave, while the promotion might cause him to flounder. A third option of assigning an excellent Project Manager to work with the Program Director in his new role could lead to success. Consideration of human factors -- the specific capabilities of the people involved -- leads to an improved solution.

An organizational structure solution may also be temporal -- its value having a shelf life. Because a given structure tends to optimize for some factors while attenuating others, using one structure for too long may cause problems to arise. To address this, organizations may alternate between different structural approaches. For instance, in a national organization with affiliates and a central office, a period of tighter central-office control aimed at reining in quality infractions may be followed by a more laissez-faire approach from the central office to stimulate local innovation. Organizational structures may oscillate over five-to-ten-year periods, first optimizing for one thing, then another. 

Finally, it is useful to remember that a structural solution can only go so far in solving an organization's problems.  People may need to be replaced, or training may be in order. Conversely, when an organization's staff is excellent, one of several different organizational structures may work just fine.

Counting What Counts

File:Boys Playing Basketball in Youth Park 20100314.jpg
File:Boys Playing Basketball in Youth Park 20100314.jpg

When working with the Department of Youth and Community Development in New York City, I heard an interesting story. A youth development program had been launched and kids were actively engaged in after school activities such as basketball and homework help. More kids were coming. Parents were involved. A good thing, right?

But when the rate of gang activity in the neighborhood was tracked, violence levels had increased. Digging further, it turned out that the after school program was functioning as a gang recruiting ground - older kids were enrolling the younger kids.

When the after school activities were re-structured to keep age groups separated, gang activity decreased.

More kids in a program doesn't automatically mean that you're having the impact that you want. By assessing outcomes, program structure can be adjusted to lead to the best results.

Don't Fundraise for Your Means, Fundraise for Your Ends

Money stars
Money stars

Would you donate money to help improve the skills of a teacher? Or, would you be more motivated to donate so the children in that teacher's classroom would get a better education, and would be more likely to stay in school?

Would you donate money to help a scientist track the pounds of carbon released into the atmosphere? Or, would you be more motivated to donate so that better carbon emission data from that scientist would influence public policy leading to reduced carbon emissions, and thus slow global warming?

Glynwood Center, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainable land use was raising money for a program that brought  together land developers, town officials and land owners to decide on the best use of open space. When the organization asked donors to "Help us bring people together to decide on the best use of open farmland," funding support was meager. When Glynwood Center changed its message to "Help us save farmland," their funding increased dramatically.

Habitat for Humanity in Wilmington Delaware would report the number of homes built each year to its funders. When  the organization added information about the reduction in crime rates and increased employment due to their new homes, funders were more interested in providing support.

Tell your donors about the ends you are furthering -- the benefits to individuals, to society or the environment. The dollars are more likely to roll in.

Is My Organization Creating Benefit? Four types of rationale

City_Harvest_Truck
City_Harvest_Truck

I expect it is important for you to know if your organization is creating social benefit. I think about this a lot, both with the clients we serve, and for our consulting firm. Donors, funders, constituents, and employees also want to know.

Here are four different types of rationale to ascertain the benefit created by an organization. While a higher level of proof may be more desirable, it is not feasible to fully prove benefit for all activities. Thus, all four rationale can be acceptable tools to inform leaders and decision-makers.

  1. An observable, causal relationship - When City Harvest collected 46 million pounds of food from the food industry and distributed them to hungry people, there was an observable, causal relationship: hungry people have been fed. City Harvest can declare the benefit it achieves based on such numbers.
  2. Evidence-based research indicating a causal relationship - The Parent Child Home Program conducted longitudinal research showing that children who had been through their program graduated from high school at higher rates than control groups. This demonstrated a high likelihood that other children going through the program would have their chance of graduating from high school  increased. The Parent Child Home Program can use this longitudinal research as convincing evidence of its benefits.
  3. A theory of change - When Garrison Institute brings together environmentalists, industrialists and government officials and uses meditation to help them find new solutions to environmental issues, Garrison Institute believes that this will help stem environmental degradation. Because this result is difficult to measure given the vast array of factors impacting the environment, Garrison Institute relies on its theory of change to guide its choices and verify the value of this work.
  4. A personal desire - Ethel Donaghue established the Donaghue Foundation with a vision of "continual improvement in people’s health as a result of research being converted to practical benefit." In doing so, she made a choice about where to focus her resources, based on a personal desire. Given that Ethel Donaghue passed away in 1989 leaving her foundation as a permanent legacy, at this point no proof is needed to determine if Ethel's vision is where the foundation should invest.

How Do Kids Build Character? See The Character Lab

Recently we had the opportunity to work with The Character Lab and their remarkable team: co-founders Dr. Angela Duckworth professor and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP, and Dominic Randolph, Head of Riverdale Country School in New York City, along with Executive Director Brittany Butler. The organization's mission is to develop, disseminate, and support research-based approaches to building character that enable kids to learn and flourish. The organization's work is part of a growing trend to recognize character as one of the key factors for success in kid's learning and development. What then are the elements of character? In their Character Growth Card, The Character Lab posits that the following seven characteristics can be used to assess character in middle-school children, and help teachers provide students with formative and helpful feedback. Reading these also sparked my imagination and interest in how they apply to my own life, and to those around me.

GRIT

  • Finished whatever s/he began
  • Worked independently with focus
  • Tried very hard even after experiencing failure
  • Stayed committed to goals
  • Kept working hard even when s/he felt like quitting

OPTIMISM

  • Believed that effort would improve his/her future
  • When bad things happened, s/he thought about things s/he could do to avoid similar bad things in the future
  • Stayed motivated, even when things didn’t go well
  • Believed that s/he could improve on things they weren’t good at

SELF CONTROL (school work)

  • Came to class prepared
  • Remembered and followed directions
  • Got to work right away rather than procrastinating
  • Paid attention and resisted distractions

SELF CONTROL (interpersonal)

  • Remained calm even when criticized or otherwise provoked
  • Allowed others to speak without interrupting
  • Was polite to adults and peers
  • Kept temper in check

GRATITUDE

  • Recognized what other people did for them
  • Showed appreciation for opportunities
  • Expressed appreciation by saying thank you
  • Did something nice for someone else as a way of saying thank you

SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE

  • Was able to find solutions during conflicts with others
  • Demonstrated respect for the feelings of others
  • Adapted to different social situations

CURIOSITY

  • Was eager to explore new things
  • Asked questions to deepen understanding
  • Took an active interest in learning

ZEST

  • Actively participated
  • Showed enthusiasm
  • Approached new situations with excitement and energy

The Character Lab is working to develop evidence-based research results to further test the validity and usefulness of these character designations. They also plan to aggregate a set of effective practices from other research-validated approaches.

Capital is More than Money: Four Types of Capital

Recently, during a meeting  with the Hyams Foundation I learned about Matthew Wesley's idea of four types of capital: Human, Cultural, Social and Financial. Rather than considering financial capital alone, all four types of capital should be included when charting a successful future. Matthew Wesley applies the concept to families who have remained successful across many generations. At the Hyams Foundation we found the concepts to be applicable to organizations and philanthropic institutions as well.

Financial Capital refers to the financial assets an entity has to invest in its future. Capital is different from income. High revenues can be offset by higher expenses, eroding financial capital. It is financial capital in reserves, unspent, that bolster an organization.

Human Capital is the resources that individuals and groups have, such as education, emotional resilience, physical health, and self-esteem. This capital can be built over time, and can also be eroded through poverty, natural disasters or other misfortune.

Social Capital relates to the development and maintenance of social networks, helping us to attain our goals while we help others attain theirs. The pattern of social networks has been changing dramatically in recent years with the advent of the virtual world.

Cultural Capital relates to the mindsets, the ethos carried by a group as it moves along its path. Culture is commonly conveyed through stories which demonstrate "how we do things around here." Culture can be a powerful foundation for an organization's equilibrium, and if eroded can cause the organization to falter or even fail.

In thinking about your organization, consider all the forms of capital that influence its success.  Human, social and cultural capital can be as powerful as financial capital in securing the future.

Five Points to Consider Regarding Organizational Structure

Are you reorganizing your organization? Are you seeking an organizational tune up? Here are five points to keep in mind:

  1. There is no "ideal" organization structure. Organizations often oscillate over time,first maximizing one thing then another. An organization may centralize its control for a while, then decentralize. It may establish regional offices, then eliminate them. It may use matrix management, then move to a simpler form of reporting. Look for the best structure at this moment in your organization's history, recognizing that every structure optimizes for some factors, and sub-optimizes for others.
  2. The right organization structure is always a combination between what you want in the abstract, and the people you've got. First specify your desired organizational characteristics, design an organization structure to achieve these, then factor in what is possible given the people on hand to do the work. 
  3. Organizations are inherently messy, chaotic entities. After all, they are not machines, but are made up of living beings. Don't expect to get everything running perfectly smoothly.
  4. Each individual in your organization has his or her own priorities that vary from the priorities of the organization as a whole. The trick is to align the two. The greater the overlap between the individuals' priorities and the organizations' priorities, the stronger the organization will be. But don't expect 100% overlap -- it doesn't happen
  5. Maintain a ratio of effort expended on external problem solving well in excess of internal problem solving. In other words -- spend a lot more effort meeting the needs of the people your organization serves vs. engaging in inter-departmental tussles. While keeping your house in order is important, the ultimate ends the organization is there to achieve are paramount, and should remain your first order of business.

How to Increase Equity and Excellence in Public Schools

Earlier this year The Equity and Excellence Commission released its final report to Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  In order to decrease the achievement gap and increase equity and excellence in America’s Public Schools the Commission recommended the following:

  1. Reform the funding systems that so often mean a child’s access to education is determined by his or her ZIP code.
  2. Elevate and reform the teaching profession
  3. Ensure access to high-quality preschools
  4. Meet the non-school needs of students from high-poverty communities
  5. Shift the system of educational governance to improve equity.

All of this is critical for a nation where the average African-American eight-grader performs at the 19th percentile of white students, and the average Hispanic eighth-grader performs at the 26th percentile. And in comparison with other countries, US students rank 27th for math and just 1 in 4 American students perform on par with the average student in Singapore or Finland. I find the report's recommendations meaningful and worth revisiting. While wholesale achievement of the recommendations is unlikely in the near term, they represent a guidepost for the future.

Checklist for a Successful Leadership Transition

In our work, we've seen a number of top leaders move on to other jobs. The transition is not always smooth. If the Executive Director or CEO of your organization is planning to leave, use the following checklist to see if your organization is ready:

  • Shared identity. Does the Board and remaining senior staff share a clear and coherent understanding of the organization's identity and purpose?
  • Buy-in. Has the organization been sufficiently prepared for the transition, allowing it to develop buy-in for the leadership transition?
  • Mechanics. Are the mechanics and schedule of the transition well planned, including the timing of announcements to employees, Board, funders, and other stakeholders, and the process of hand-off from one leader to the next?
  • Bench strength. Are the staff just below the leader strong enough to carry the organization during the transition period until a new leader is solidly in place?
  • Institutional memory. Has the organization instituted a method to transfer knowledge and relationships held by the exiting leader to others in the organization?

For many organizations, it will take time to put these elements in place. To the extent possible, plan ahead for a successful leadership transition.

Do you have other points to add to this checklist? Please leave a comment. We'd love to hear your ideas.

Is Growth Always Good?

When I was an MBA student, I absorbed the message that growth is always good. And later at The Boston Consulting Group, working with corporate executives, I shared their assumption that a growing business is a successful business. "If you're not growing, you're dying," was an oft-cited phrase. But for nonprofit organizations it's not so simple. Of course, there are times for growth. Incubators like Blue Ridge Foundation New York, New Profit, and Bikkurim find and support nonprofits with high growth potential. And an organization like City Harvest that feeds the hungry of New York has a mandate for growth given all the unserved hungry people in the city. But an advocacy organization like the D.C. based Afterschool Alliance can fulfill its national role with a staff of around 25. Further growth is not required. And some organizations have found themselves over-sized for the funding available, or ungainly in their operations, and have chosen to downsize.

I have seen business executives on a nonprofit board confused when realizing that growth for the nonprofit will mean increased deficits. In business, growth in products sold or services delivered typically leads to increased profits, which can mean re-investment for more growth. It's a virtuous cycle. But for nonprofits, the equation is different. Given that most nonprofits require donations and grants to subsidize their work, growth in service delivery requires more fundraising to fill deficits.   And if the organization's funding is tapped out, growth may not be advisable even while the need served by the organization goes partly unfilled.

Based on our experience, it is an open question if a nonprofit should grow. An organization can be long-lasting and sustainable by finding the right business model, right-sizing operations to fit revenue potential, and delivering services with excellence. Growth is not always good.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

Did Your Strategic Plan Get Dirty, or Dusty?

Recently, I was in a meeting with a strategic planning team at the Village for Families and Children in Hartford, Connecticut. Gallo Rodriguez, the President of the Organization, said "Our strategic plan should get dirty, not dusty." He was calling upon the group to work towards a strategic plan that would lead to action, and change the way the organization works. We often hear people say, "We don't want our plan to just sit on a shelf and gather dust." Rather, they want the plan to guide their work and be actively used - in other words, to "get dirty." How can you assure that your strategic plan guides your work and "gets dirty?" We've found five elements that help this come true:

  1. Articulate your most important strategic questions, and focus your strategic planning process on providing answers to these questions.
  2. Collect the facts. Analyze them to generate insights about your environment, your competitors and collaborators, your revenue opportunities, and use these insights to arrive at well-founded decisions about the future.
  3. Assemble a planning team of your organization's key decision-makers and influencers. Engage this team to discuss fact-based insights and reach decisions about the organization's future. See that team members act as representatives of the various constituents of your organization -- staff departments, Board groups, external stakeholders -- and work towards a consensus that considers all views.
  4. Listen for what will work. Gather advice. Involve people. The naysayer, the visionary, and the pragmatist all have important contributions. Great outcomes emerge through careful listening and creative development of solutions that address what has been heard. And when people feel heard they are more likely to support the plan.
  5. Establish an unambiguous plan of action and use it to guide who does what, by when. Clearly describe each action step so anyone can tell when it has been accomplished, has one person ultimately responsible (not a group), and has a due date on the calendar.

By using these five elements, you will greatly increase the chances that your strategic plan will guide the work of your organization. You will have a plan that gets dirty, not dusty.

Eight Models for National Expansion

If you are looking to grow your organization on a national scale, make sure to choose the approach that best suits your needs for quality control, brand recognition, and growth. In a recent study by Bikkurim and Wellspring Consulting of organizations who have achieved national expansion, we identified the following eight models. Branch. In the branch model, an organization operates in different locations (or branches) under a single legal organizational entity that is overseen by a central headquarters. While national brand recognition can be strong, with consistent control of quality across all locations, this model requires comparatively high costs and staff time at the central office. The organization's growth rate may be limited by a need to raise money for funding and management capacity at the central headquarters.

Franchise. A franchise model is similar to a branch model except that operations in different locations are separately incorporated entities. Each entity has the same name and brand, and franchisees are legally bound to use the brand and deliver programming consistently, leading to higher quality control.  In the nonprofit setting, franchisees may be organized groups of volunteers who must abide by the organization’s protocol and are often called “chapters." Growth comes from adding new franchises and depends on the appetite of the originating organization and the availability of talent to lead franchises.

Affiliate. In the affiliate model, organizations with similar missions affiliate with a central originating organization. Affiliates may have different, but related, names and brands from the originating organization and other affiliates. The originating organization supports affiliates with a proven program approach. Quality may not be as consistent across affiliates because each affiliate is its own entity. Growth occurs through enrolling new affiliates and depends on the funding and management capacity of the originating organization.

Program Codification. In the program codification model, growth occurs when an originating organization codifies a program approach and provides this codification to other organizations. Such codification ensures that a program is delivered in a way that is faithful to the originating organization’s proven approach. This may include pre-packaged program materials, directions for instructors, videos, evaluation forms, etc. These materials may be accompanied by consulting. Since organizations using a codified approach may not publicize their ties to the originating organization, program codification is unlikely to support national brand recognition. At the same time, this approach offers a relatively low-cost way to grow the use programmatic content.

Dissemination. In the dissemination model, an organization shares ideas or new methods that it has developed with others, though the ideas have yet to be codified. If an idea or method is widely adopted by others, the potential growth rate is high despite the low-cost nature of this approach. However, the user is unlikely to publicly credit the originating organization, so for the originating organization national brand recognition and the ability to control program quality are both low.

Network. The network model is similar to the dissemination model in that ideas or methods are shared without codification, but it places more emphasis on webs of relationships and an open flow of information. The network model relies on leveraging connections between users who may or may not be connected to the originating organization. Some in the chain of transmission may use the idea or program being shared while others may simply pass it along. The idea or program may also be changed by users who communicate their changes through the network. As in the dissemination model, the cost to the originating organization is low, as are brand recognition and quality control, but the growth rate is potentially high.

Merger. Mergers can achieve growth by combining organizations with similar missions. A single-city organization with a highly effective program may decide to merge with a national organization seeking to deliver that program in new places. Mergers are effective when each organization adds something from which the other organization can benefit, and when the organizations have similar missions and compatible cultures. While a merger can lead to rapid programmatic growth, programs may need to be re-branded and may lose autonomy.

Partnership. Growth via partnership occurs when two organizations see an opportunity to increase their impact by working together. Partnerships can allow the participating non-profits to gain efficiency while maintaining independent authority over their programs. The two groups may work together informally or form a legal relationship, and the partnership may be temporary or long-term. As with a merger, a partnership is most effective when each organization brings something that the other organization can benefit from, and when missions and cultures align. Since each partner maintains its own brand and quality, partnerships can be a low risk way to expand, however successful upkeep of the relationships requires time and effort.

Advocacy: To Win, Play Offense as well as Defense

I was meeting recently with people at the The Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on the fundamental issues of democracy and justice. We were discussing the merits of advocacy oriented towards rapid response vs. proactively taking the offensive. In a world of limited resources, an advocacy organization must decide where it places its attention. If the majority of the organization's focus is on responding to issues and opportunities as they arise -- such as new bills introduced or emerging legal tussles -- it may not have the wherewithal to maintain focus where it can have the greatest wins.

Back in the 1980’s Ronald Reagan's former Attorney General Edwin Meese worked with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank and advocacy organization, to create a vision for how to systematically move the legal climate in America further to the right. He drafted a document – now known as the “Meese Memo” – that outlined what it would take to fulfill that vision: appoint conservative judges, win key litigation and develop conservative constitutional scholarship among other ideas. The Meese Memo galvanized the conservative legal community and now, over 30 years later, much of the Meese Memo has come to pass.

Over the long haul, an advocacy organization will lose out if it biases too strongly towards fast response, playing the defensive role. The urgent will crowd out the important. For battles that can only be won through preparation and planning, the victor will be the one with a long-term vision and the discipline to achieve it.

The Brennan Center under its current leader Michael Waldman has shifted towards the offensive, and has set its sights on achieving a select few goals with the potential to create long-term, widespread impact. With this disciplined approach they have what it takes to win.

For Whom Do You Really Work?

I came to my work in the social sector with a desire for selfless service. Perhaps you did too. I hope to make the world a better place, to leave everyone I meet a little better off. But these aspirations can get eclipsed by my self-oriented desires. Of course, there is benefit in working for self-fulfillment. But if my dominant urge is to build my own stature, my ability to further the common good is attenuated. My choices become subtly directed towards enhancing myself and I become less creative and vital in furthering others.

Facilitating a Board retreat at Garrison Institute, I am reminded of my commitment to selfless service. The wisdom of contemplative practice, as furthered by that institution, increases my awareness that my success is interlinked with your success. It is through benefiting others that my greatest rewards will come.

All the spiritual traditions teach that deep happiness comes from serving others. This, ultimately, is what I seek.

 

Yes, And...

There is great power in taking what someone offers, and expanding on it. Improvisational theater only works because of this approach. Whatever one person starts is continued by the next person. When children play together, they also do this. One says, “I’ll be a fireman.” The other adds, “I’ll drive the fire truck, and we’re going to a fire.”

When working with colleagues, I have found the usefulness of saying, “yes, and.” By affirming truth in what a person is saying, and finding ways to build on that truth, achievements flow. Contrast that with the times when argument arises. The path to the best, jointly held solution is often much longer.

For efficiency, creative spark, and successful forward motion, try practicing “Yes, And…”