Yes, but… vs Yes, and…

Immediately after narrowly averting a cataclysmic catastrophe, as a multiple car pile-up occurred at the end of the 2015 Daytona 500, NASCAR responded in a very childlike way: It changed the rules.

NASCAR did not give the newly formed Drivers’ Council exactly what it had been asking for, but it was a rule change both sides thought would be good for the sport.

Problem-solving, time to change the rules

Watch children at play, particularly as they show interest in a sport. They do not have the skill or strategic understanding to play the formal version of any sport; so they select aspects of a game they find most interesting and adopt rules consistent with their capabilities. Then, as their abilities improve, they adopt additional rules to keep play fair.

Sometimes they get it wrong. A new rule can introduce unintended consequences. So, they negotiate a modification or an entire new rule.

It is a learning process. Given the opportunity to direct their own negotiations during play, children are not just physically involved, but growing socially and cognitively as well.

Play is innate to childhood, as it is the earliest form of learning. Children value play enough that they cope with the many hurdles it presents with a “Yes, and…” attitude.

Consider a common scenario. Children are playing a sport-related game, unsupervised, at an age-appropriate level of skills and rules. As the game progresses they become aware that a new level of skill is emerging among them. The rules they have been playing by need revision to keep play fair.

Play is stopped so they can discuss it. As the exact nature of the problem is unveiled, someone suggests a new rule, “We could…” To which someone else responds, “Yes, and we could also…”

Others chime in with their own ideas and revisions. It occurs very quickly because they all want to return to playing the game, not just talk about it. So, they establish a majority consensus on a new rule, with the understanding, “Yes, and if this doesn’t work, we can try something different.” And they return to play.

How does this differ from adults? Adults respond to problem-solving with “Yes, but…” Someone suggests a solution, to which someone else responds, “Yes, but that won’t work because…”

Perhaps the difference relates to a Chinese adage, “You cannot fill a cup that is already full.” Children are open to a new possibility because they associate it with learning; filling their cup. Adults close themselves off to any new possibility because their cup is full; they already know all they need to know.

Adults have learned to fear mistakes, so they are quick to identify limitations and hurdles. In essence, “Yes, but I can think of a way it will not work; therefore what is the use of trying?” Children do not fear mistakes because they have an innate understanding that there are lessons in mistakes. Hence, the attitude of “Yes, and if it does not work as anticipated, we can try something different.”

Almost every parent can think of a time they tried to convince a child “it can’t be done” only to be proven wrong. Of course, if the child approached the problem with the same assumptions as the adult, indeed it could not be done. But the inventiveness of childhood is not subject to those limitations, so they come up with a novel solution that amazes the naysayer.

The #3 car took flight and hit the retaining fence at the Daytona Speedway with enough force to shake NASCAR’s cup. Whereas NASCAR had been responding to the Drivers’ Council with “Yes, but…”, enough beer was spilled to create space for new ideas. As commentators reported on the rule changes there was acknowledgement on both sides, “Yes, this is a good change, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else,” and quickly returned to the game.

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