“These programmes are all very good, but what is really important is experience”


Running a leadership development programme is to, a large extent, an uncertain endeavour.  Exploring the areas of uncertainty, expertise vs unknowing, creativity and innovation, ethics and change demands a high degree of experimentation to ensure that workshops don’t turn into nuts and bolts “how to” workshops that propose a model of “best practice” or a “right way to lead”.


Therefore, just as in life, you never know what anyone will say.


As was the case when running a Q&A with a director of an international institute and the 16 or so participants on the programme.


In one short sentence the director had managed to both praise and damn the programme.  The killer word was “but”.  Three letters that tipped the meaning from a positive to a negative.


Let’s consider an alternative.


“Yes, and…” is a rule-of-thumb response in improvisation that suggests a participant should accept what another participant has stated (“yes”) and then expand on that line of thinking (“and”).

Google it and you’ll find thousands of articles and videos.


It works entirely counter to the blocking power of “but”, which stops an idea dead in its tracks.


We hear it often in work and home.


“But we tried it before and it didn’t work”

“But we need permission”

“But it will cost too much”

“But it might go wrong”

“But that’s not your job”


I’m sure you can find endless examples for yourself.


If we were to change the “but” in the director’s sentence to just “and”, how would that change the intention and what would be the implications?


“These programmes are all very good, and what is really important is experience”


The sentence becomes a call to action, an encouragement to put into practice what one has learnt.


This is why I strongly advocate Action Learning (see “Crossing the Line”)


Learners will learn through action, but one or two day workshops, and even week long courses, can at best only work as an analogue to the day to day, as an arena to explore and be stretched.  Work is where the learning is applied, tried, got wrong, tried again.  Workshops are for implications.  Work for applications. It easy for this ‘bridging’ to be overlooked.  The term ‘developmental relationships’, the ’20’ of the 70-20-10 model, is apt to be nebulous, unquantifiable and therefore easily ignored. The bridge between the workshop and the work must be engaged with actively.

Hence, I strongly recommend action learning as a positive, effective and resource efficient learning activity. It focuses on the work, it demands commitment to action and, through the development of a stronger peer bonds from the programme cohort, encourages learning from and, hence, appreciation of, different perspectives. I would rather someone miss a workshop than an action learning session.


For me, the act of changing “but” to “and” has re-validated the programme I run and confirmed that, in the eyes of that director, I am going in the right direction… whether he quite sees that or not.



Copyright V&A Museum
Vype Reload – Photograph (c) Victoria & Albert Museum

Being mindful of our own tendencies to block with “but” is a step towards developing our creativity and positive intent.

The Vype Reload electronic cigarette is perhaps a bad pun.

But it leaves no butts.