Friday, April 8, 2011

2013 TKR: Botgirl takes on the YesButters. But they get my sympathy

The sad story of the YesButters
You know them.  You can even plan on them.  Whenever somebody suggests a possible solution to a problem, there is always one around to respond "Yes, but..."
Use your head! They always tell you that. They never tell you how

- Botgirl had this to say: about people she calls obstructors.
There are others who consistently oppose new ideas. The first response of these Obstructor is "Let me tell you why it won't work." Their intent in exploring risks and flaws is not to find solutions, but to shoot projects down."
Anybody who works with task-oriented small groups or with systematic problem-solving will recognize the YesButters.  They are really pests in a brainstorming session.  You set the ground rules:
  • The goal of brainstorming is to produce as many relevant ideas as you can.
  • The ideas don't have to be practical at this point.
  • We don't evaluate or criticize now.  That will stifle ideas.
  • We write evaluations somewhere for later use.
Standard stuff. Well known as the most effective method for brainstorming. The YesButters will ignore the rules by the third idea.-
"Yes, but that won't work because..."
If you don't have a skilled group facilitator, the brainstorming session. turns into an argument about why this idea will or won't work.  Everybody goes away complaining about how this session was a waste of time.
An experienced group facilitator, recognizes the YesButtering right away and applies the standard diversion:
"Well that's a good criticism, so let's write it down on the critic's list and get back to it after we have enough ideas to evaluate."
Sometimes the facilitator will even ask the YesButter for an idea.  This usually silences the YesButter, who is not accustomed to coming up with new ideas.
The case for the YesButters
The YesButters are genuine obstructions in brainstorming and problem-solving groups.  But I don't think free-ranging YesButters are effective obstructions in, say, blogs.  Indeed, some experts will argue that the reason the YesButters are so sure new ideas will fail is that they are drawing on experience with their own new ideas.

And the YesButters can be valuable.  One of the recognized pitfalls of small-group decision-making in group-think.  That happens when a particular option becomes the group norm and the case against that option is not made strongly enough.  You don't call them YesButters then.  If  your are an experienced facilitator, you call them the Devil's Advocate and ask them to make the strongest possible case against the option.
In common parlance, a devil's advocate is someone who, given a certain argument, takes a position he or she does not necessarily agree with, just for the sake of argument. In taking such position, the individual taking on the devil's advocate role seeks to engage others in an argumentative discussion process. The purpose of such process is typically to test the quality of the original argument and identify weaknesses in its structure, and to use such information to either improve or abandon the original, opposing position.'s_advocate
And why do they deserve sympathy?
 Because they usually apply their most effective YesButting to their own potential initiatives.  An so those initiatives aren't even potential.  They are still-born.
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries  -- WS
How to deal with YesButters
Pay attention to the perils the point out.  Some of those will be real problems that will require real solutions.
But keep in mind the tale of' "Running the Rapids"
The amateurs look down the rapids in fear because they see all the rocks.
The professionals look down the rapids in confidence because the see the paths between the rocks.
But don't waste your time trying to convince the YesButters that the plan can be successful.  They believe in failure and your argument will not convince them otherwise.
If you believe you will succeed, you may be right.
If you believe you will fail, you will certainly be right.     
Maybe not even after you succeed.

  • What do we do in Virtual Worlds? 2012
  • Search on page with Google Chrome: Ctrl+f, search bar upper right 
  • Google search this blog, column on right
  • or put at the end on the search terms
  • Annotated screen shots made with Jing
  • Creative Commons License, attribution only.
Drop by my place in Second life
Location Link. Click to go or drag to the viewer screen
Feel free to send me an IM, notecard, or friend request.
Thinkerer Melville/Selby Evans


  1. Nice post! A lot more balanced than mine. :)

    My human counterpart does a fair amount of group facilitation within the context of change management, mostly using visual thinking and gamerstorming processes. I've just started thinking about how that paradigm might be translated into a virtual world setting.