I have to admit it: I can be a real But Head.
You know the feeling…you’re sitting with some colleagues and you’re brain-storming; you can feel your pulse quicken as great ideas, wild ideas, silly ideas rise. One of the “stormers” runs to the white board and starts sketching ideas.
That’s when it usually starts for me. “But we don’t have enough cash,” I’ll say. Or, “we’ll never get their support.” The Buts start tumbling out of my mouth. Miki Kashtan described it to me last week as “the impossibility chatter.” And, if it happens often and frequently enough, the Buts can suck all the energy out of the room.
I was at a board meeting recently and came face to face with the corrosive effects of “but.” This organization has had its troubles of late and this was the first meeting after some particularly disturbing events had been uncovered.
A group of us had spent part of time in a side meeting, a planning meeting, with staff and some ad hoc committee members. We were working to sort through the options regarding a program the organization offers. One option, a compelling option because of a tightening cash situation made worse by the disturbing and recent chain of events, was to kill the program. The other option was to grow it.
The committee was comprised people who favored expansion and our work was to figure out how to make that possible. Over three days, we spent a total of nine hours debating, envisioning, and expanding.
Sure enough, every time we tried to break free, my impossibility chatter would kick and the Buts would come streaming out. And to be fair to myself, I could see how the implicit fear that gives rise to the Buts spreads like a virus in the room.
Just as the energy was about to be depleted, one staffer spoke up.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “it seems it’s always my role in such meetings to point out what the problems are with ideas. I hate it. But I feel like I’m being irresponsible if I don’t.”
Suddenly I saw it…the way out of the But Head mentality. Because the truth was, this guy wasn’t letting his impossibility chatter kill the energy, stifle the creativity. He was simply delivering the power of what is.
There’s a difference between allowing the Buts to stop the process of innovation and recognizing the reality of things as they are. That difference may be a nuance, an energy shift, or small substitution of words (such as “and” for “but”) but it can mean the difference between life and death for the innovation process.
Recognizing and accepting things as they are now doesn’t have to limit the way you believe things can be later. For individuals as well as organizations, if properly integrated into the envisioning process, that recognition can ground the planning, the dreaming, and allow the envisioning to stay connected with the core of who and what we really are.