Yes / No Thinking is a lazy approach to parenting, implemented in your early childhood to save valuable items from being destroyed, and from time to time, ensuring you stayed a live.

If you place a 2 year old next to a freshly painted white wall and hand them an extra thick black Permanent Marker, it will take no longer than 90 seconds for the child to work out how to remove the lid of the marker and to apply the marker to the wall.

If you give a 2 year old child a cup of water in one hand and a mobile phone in the other, it will take no longer than 10 seconds for the phone to be placed into the cup of water, or the cup of water to be emptied onto the phone.

In both of these examples it’s not difficult to guess the parental response? In whatever form it is delivered, the communication will centre around ensuring the child understands that walls and markers, in example 1, and mobile phones and water, in example 2, are never ever thought about again in the same sentence.


That is Yes / No thinking. You can think about these things, but you may never think about those. Those are permissible thoughts, and these are most definitely not. As I said in the beginning, this is a very useful tool to protect expensive things and even lives, but it’s terrible on every level when it comes to thinking creatively.

If you reflect on your own life for a minute, specifically about how many times you have been told what things can be thought about and which things can’t, the number is staggering. It is quite possible there is an entire world, that you have had access to, and have never spent any time thinking about. Not because you’re incapable, but because you were told and taught that you weren’t allowed to combine some words, thoughts and ideas into the same sentence and think about them.

If innovation is predicated on our ability to be creative (to think outside of the box, and differently), then what chance do we have when there’s an entire world we’ve been forbidden from engaging with in our minds?


I had this exact conversation with a client recently, and why teaching adults to play can help to break the Yes / No Thinking paradigm. She said she was struggling to understand how that was possible? I opened the Creative Play Society Adult Creativity Workbook to this page….

yes / no thinking creative course online free

She had a look at the page, paused for a while to think, and then told me it was silly. She told me that stones and rocks aren’t soft at all. She used the existence of the phrase ‘rock hard’ to support her view.

I smiled back and asked her what would happen if she told her 5 year old daughter that rocks were actually soft and you could feel their softness if you successfully snuck up on them? Of course almost every 5 year old’s eyes would light up at the possibility of sneaking up on a rock to catch it off-guard in order to feel it’s softness.


And that’s why we put this exercise in the book. Unless you’re prepared to break your yes / no thinking paradigm, and play in your mind with concepts like water and phones, markers and walls, sneaking up on soft rocks, you’re always going to leave out a large chunk of the world to draw from when you’re looking for creative possibilities to the solutions you’re designing.

And how do you know, by the way, that rocks aren’t soft until you touch them? I’m prepared to bet you’ve never ever tried to sneak up on one 🙂

Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash