Collaboration: Working with Yes Anders rather than No Butters

While I’ve never been in an improv class, I really like the idea of saying “yes, and” as a way to move the activity forward. As others have also pointed out, this can work in business and research as well.

For me, there are three lessons to take from this:

  1. I need to try not to immediately say no to a new idea, but at least for a little while, say yes, and see where it takes me. This is counter to a fair amount of my engineering training, which was reinforced in meetings at JPL, where any flaw could doom a mission and it was important to find them. And while this makes sense in project reviews, it doesn’t make sense in a lot of other situations, and I can get stuck in thinking in this pattern.
  2. Some people seem to consistently operate by saying “yes, and” in discussions – I’ll call them Yes Anders. While others often interact the other way – and I’ll call them No Butters. Maybe you’ve had this experience as well? Some people are really hard to talk to because everything turns into an argument where they are right and everything/everyone else is wrong.
  3. As many people have said to me, one of the great things about being in an academic research environment is that there are so many things we can do and so many people we can work with. I need to focus more on working with the Yes Anders and less with the No Butters.

I’m going to try to be conscious of this, and see how it works. And when I’m mentoring people, I’m going to try to get them to be Yes Anders too.

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Chief Scientist at NCSA, Research Associate Professor in CS, ECE, and the iSchool at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; works on systems and tools (aka cyberinfrastructure) and policy related to computational and data-enabled research, primarily in science and engineering

Categories RSE, Uncategorized1 Comment

One thought on “Collaboration: Working with Yes Anders rather than No Butters”

  1. This is an important observation and challenge to many of us. I don’t know about the training in engineering, but certainly in science and for a doctorate, the work is at least nominally independent and novel. We are trained to pounce on any flaws or failures of the work or the theory, because that is where the “interesting stuff” lies.

    This leads to a laser-like focus on problems, but they are often problems in small parts of the larger picture. The implicit approach is that if any part is flawed the entire idea is flawed. Try sitting in such a discussion without actively participating and note how often people point out what is wrong with an idea vs right!

    Collaboration is about finding the best, and while some flaws are fatal, flawless ideas are often too limited to be valuable. “Perfect is the enemy of good” as Voltaire noted.

    Liked by 1 person

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