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03 Oct

When things don’t turn out the way you had in mind


Date: 2011-10-03 12:00 Comments: 0 st

With all certainty, you have also experienced that something didn’t turn out quite the way you had expected it to.

Perhaps something took longer than planned? Did something show up right when you had decided to do something else? Did piles form on the desk in spite of your most sincere efforts to keep the chaos of papers in check? Were you unsuccessful in pitching that idea to that one particular person who would have made an excellent client?


We really needed to have that meeting with the client, the boss, the colleague, the project-manager, but then at the last minute, it was re-scheduled.


At times like these, it is easy to let circumstances get you down. The consequence: We lose speed, become listless and have trouble getting going with what we actually should be doing right now.


Having physical, concrete structural tools which makes us more efficient is one thing. If you in addition to this have an advantageous attitude and approach, your life will be made even easier.


Today the tip is about two words and a comma which will get you on the right track again, regardless what happens.

Embrace rather than block

One context in which things rarely turn out the way you expected them to, is improvisational theatre. The legendary theatre teacher Keith Johnstone writes about how crucial it is to have an embracing approach to whatever happens when we improvise, in his book ”Impro”, in order for our actions to be meaningful, so that we can move on and create something valuable.

An improvisational exercise on an empty stage might play out like this: Two people are quickly assigned a role each, for instance a realtor and a potential buyer. The real estate agent begins to present the apartment (spontaneously, and without a script of course) and the buyer follows the realtor’s lead.

Johnstone describes how different people act and react in the improvised situation. If one replies “No,…” to an idea the other person puts forward, the progression forward is obstructed. The co-actor will have difficulty continuing the scene and continuing being creative. If on the other hand the other actor replies “Yes, and…” and thereby adds to the sequence of events, a new thread emerges for new ideas to be made from, which at least takes the story one step further. 

An incurable optimist

One person who unquestionably said ”Yes, and…” rather than “No,…” was the visionary and Nobel Price laureate Gustaf Dahlén who managed the company AGA during 28 years until 1937.

In an explosion resulting from an experiment in 1912, he lost his sight on both eyes. In the beginning of the 20’s both AGA and Gustaf Dahlén personally fell into deep financial crisis, but which they successfully emerged from. During the 30’s he was affected by another crisis ensuing from the Kreuger-crash, and for the second time he and the company made it through. According to Gustav Dahlén, it was his optimism that saved him. 

The optimist is objected to the same misfortunes as everybody else. What distinguishes him from others is that he says “Yes, and…” when these occur.

Life consist of constant improvisation

As I see it, we can regard all situations in our daily lives as improvisations. When we have a meeting or when we work together with others, we rarely know what is going to happen, so we think and act “on our feet” when reacting to what someone says or does. Examples of every day situations which require improvisation can be a sales situation, it can be that we are performing a service or that we simply are having a conversation with someone.

Surely we would rather move forward, from clarity to clarity, instead of running into obstacles, getting stuck and being forced to start over from scratch?

Therefore adopt an embracing approach to what happens in your life and you will easier get to where you want to go (and have a more pleasant journey getting there). It takes more effort to resist and work against what happens rather than working with it and simply direct yourself and your efforts in the direction you wish to head, so that that is where you end up.

Try this

When something unexpected occurs which you rather had not seen happen, say to yourself: ”Yes, and…”.

After ”and” you add something concrete you can do instead or do as a consequence of what has happened, for example, “Yes, and therefore I can get in touch with … instead of…”, or “Yes, we will reschedule this meeting as well, and we can discuss the most important matters by e-mail instead.”, or “Yes, now everything remotely close to being structured just went out the window, and that means that I can simply start by organizing a detail at this end of the mess and work my way forward.”

With ”Yes” you accept what happens without becoming a victim of any circumstances, since “Yes” is followed by “,and…” and now is the time for you to act in a favorable manner. It is what you allow to come after “and” which determines how you can and will affect the situation and make the best of it; you will probably even make sure that the situation results in something even better than it would have if the mishap hadn’t happened. 

“Yes” – you take responsibility for the situation, the ball in is your hands, “,and…” – you hurl the ball in the direction you want it to go with full strength and energy.

How you can remind yourself of this

Remind yourself of thinking “Yes, and…” by for instance:

  • Paste a note on the edge of your computer screen which says “Yes, and…”
  • Create a slot in your calendar without a specific time attached to it (recurring daily for a few weeks) where the words “Yes, and…” can be found. You will be reminded every time you check your calendar.
  • Put a note on the inside of your front door. That way you will be reminded every time you leave the house.
  • Arrange for a colleague to e-mail you randomly at some point during the day, every day, for the next couple of weeks, sending you an e-mail with the subject line “Yes, and…”
  • Ask your children to paint a picture with the words “Yes, and…” in the middle of it, scan it and use it as your computer desktop.
  • Finish the following sentence however you want to: “Yes, David, those were some of your ideas of how to be reminded, and my idea is to…”

What was your way?

What allowed for you to get through the most recent crisis in your business or professional life? What was the decisive factor? Leave a comment to let me and others know.

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