Why A Brand Needs ‘Yes And’ At The Heart Of It


How can anyone keep up with the world and all its complexities when the steady progress of evolution has been left behind by a crashing series of big bangs? If you think it’s hard work just keeping up with the present, well it’s almost impossible to live in a near future of educated guesses and predictions about what’s coming next.

With change coming around so quickly and the side-effects swiftly following (both good and bad), there’s a keener need for new ideas more than ever. And so the perpetual cycle speeds up.

The one constant with progress, no matter how innovative it is: everything starts with an idea. I don’t mean fluffy thoughts or cheap rip-offs, I mean real ideas that can send us to Mars and back; ideas that can save more jobs than there are people in Milton Keynes; ideas that build global businesses out of brushing our teeth.

Building the kind of ideas that are fit for this world is tough – it takes hard work, a myriad of skill-sets and experiences, and it needs plenty of optimism.

Building ideas is a team game.

There’s no room for the individual or the big “I am’s”. They may have sparks of inspiration, but they’re not ideas. They are exactly what it says on the tin – “inspiration, what if’s and starting points”. It’s asking more of each other that encourages progress; that takes an inspiration forward.

Recently, AXA wanted to examine how technology could build better relationships and brand loyalty with its customers. Through a workshop of collaborative sessions, members of their marketing team and senior executives from all over the business – whether from the finance, customer service, sales or communications departments – worked with creatives and strategists. Doing this shoulder to shoulder, in a safe, neutral environment where there were no boundaries created by job titles or experience.

After all, great ideas aren’t confined by fences. So why shouldn’t we try to remove barriers from the process?

It was the first time that AXA, with a history of 30 years of innovation, had ever done this across so many different parts of the business. This workshop structure enabled a myriad of differing points of view and a wheelbarrow full of optimism. After nurturing and building on the various initiatives as a group, based on their feasibility and impact, some started to become clear winners – like one idea around encouraging and rewarding AXA’s clients’ positive stories by interacting with them on their tech devices. Bold, proactive, social.

Thanks to the experience in the room the process was smooth, and any barriers that were left soon became stakeholders – another positive impact from this collaborative method.

The start of a process (like the one in which AXA was involved) is probably the most fragile. Similar to going on a journey to the unknown, the first step from behind your desk is sometimes the most difficult emotionally. A frown, a sigh, a head shake, or snide comment can be as fatal to a new idea as a seed landing on concrete. Because it’s only once the seed has grown a bit that you will know for certain whether it’s an orchid or a bog weed, a rocket or a dustbin.

The room only had one rule – everyone must have an open mind and accept they may be wrong if they believed an idea wouldn’t work. In other words, they had to be optimistic. Instead of chipping away at an idea with the word ‘no’, everyone was charged with building on ideas through saying ‘Yes and…’.

There’s a Ted Talk I like by Kathryn Schulz on ‘Being wrong’ (watch it below). Skilfully, she talks about how we live in the present tense, which means we mostly feel right about everything until the future proves us wrong. The best part for me was realising how being wrong feels the same as feeling right, until you know otherwise.

When it comes to sharing and listening to new ideas generated by others, the opposite can also be true, especially when you’re trying to live in the future. It’s much easier to kill an idea than it is to nurture and build upon it as a group.

The power of a team approach also came to the fore for a Visa project, helping the company build a proposition around the future of wearable contactless payment technology that they could take to its member banks. For this, the combined power of prosumers (consumers from a marketing and creative background), fashion designers, bloggers, vloggers, members of Visa and other design influencers worked effectively in workshops and focus groups across the country.

Merging internal and external ideas is a great route to a place where diversity thrives and creativity is ignited. But through all this optimism has to be abundant.

It’s all about ‘Yes and…’ – no one has the power to belittle or trash an idea until it’s proven that it doesn’t work. Rather you build on it, nurture it, force each other to move it forward. It’s about embarking on a journey, utilising your creativity and combined experiences to produce ideas that are effective, relevant and brilliant, no matter how complex the world gets.