Breaking Paradigms: The Power of Yet

Breaking Paradigms: The Power of Yet

Marketing | Posted by - September 12, 2013 at 2:05 pm

One word. The right word.

Not but. Not can't nor haven't. Not even not.

The word is yet. A simple conjunction. Three letters, never spelled incorrectly, yet extremely powerful (see, there it is already!). Properly positioned, it changes everything. Put it at the end of 'We can't', and we get, 'We can't, yet.' That one word suggests a completely different tone and meaning, changing the mood from glass-half-empty to glass-half-full all by itself. Here it is again – "We don't do that here" versus "We don't do that here, yet." As in, that isn't a bad idea. Let's figure out how to make it happen.

You have used the word before. Someone pushes back on an idea, stating, "That won't work. We don't have the skills (or resources, or time, etc.)." You respond, "We don't have the skills, yet," maybe with a bit of a smile on your face, and you've succeeded in shifting the paradigm within that meeting. The paradigm in completely broken yet (again!), but now people are listening. The naysayers will look obtuse if they push back without hearing your out. Now, hook them!

For me, there are three characteristics of effective leadership. Great leaders recognize opportunities, they avoid catastrophes, and most importantly, they break paradigms. Breaking paradigms keeps us from getting too comfortable, keeps us on the edge. As leaders, we need to constantly challenge the team, and help them see things from other new and fresh perspectives. This is how we solve problems, innovate and prevent the business from getting stale. Breaking paradigms is a key skill set and behavior in the lean organization discussed in my last post (Lean and the Duct Tape Conundrum), and reinforced by my friend Ken Wong in his a couple weeks later (Can Marketing and Operations Co-Exist?).

Still, easier said than done. When was the last time you broke a paradigm? When was the last time you asked for something exceptional from your team, and then helped them get there? If the culture for creativity, problem solving and change isn't there, you need an enabler. Start with yet, as in ends of sentences noted above. The next stage, and where yet gets its real power, is when we use it to connect needs and opportunities. As in, we want better service yet improved efficiency.

Toyota did this famously with the creation of the Lexus 25 years ago (see Jeff Liker's The Toyota Way, for example). In the table below, we see the uncompromising goals of the first Lexus, the LS400, which was to go up against the Mercedes 420SE and the BMW 735i, flagships from those companies.

Great high-speed handling


A pleasant ride

Fast and smooth ride


Low fuel consumption

Super quiet


Light weight

Elegant styling


Great aerodynamics



Functional interior

Great stability at high speeds


Great Cd value (low friction)

The application of yet, here, maintained a lean focus for the engineering team, pushing them to solve problems with existing designs rather than use the same approaches. Super quiet, yet light weight for example. The natural tendency to reduce road noise on vehicles of the time was to increase the amount of insulation between the cabin and the engine. Yet light weight forced the team to develop technologies that reduced noise out of the engine.

How will you surprise your customer? How will you make life easier or simpler for your employees? At its core, Operations is about execution and making strategy come to life. Don't settle – start by applying that simple word to bend, shift and break a paradigm and watch the doors open.

Liker, J., The Toyota Way, pg 48, McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Barry Cross is a professor of Operations Management and Technology at Queen's School of Business in Kingston, and best-selling author of Lean Innovation: Understanding What's Next in Today's Economy.

Tags: leadership, effective entrepreneur, barry cross, queens, challenges, culture, customers, idea, operations, paradigms, perspective, simpson, strategy, team, tips , digital

Kirsten Flynn
June 25, 2013 at 6:49 pm

People who instinctively inject ‘yet’ into their vocabulary are the people that I want to hang out with because we are speaking the same language. They are visionaries, inspirational and usually a lot of fun to be with.

Thank you for posting this.

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