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“Yes” Opens the Windows to Our Best Ideas

Posted: April 24, 2013

Dr. Becker spoke to JCHE's Board and to leaders in the housing and senior services sphere.


As you saw in Amy’s latest “Insights from Onsite” post, JCHE was very lucky to host Dr. Hans Becker, CEO of the Humanitas Foundation in Rotterdam, this last week.  Dr. Becker is an inspirational leader and thinker who has transformed a system of un-inspired nursing homes into developments of “apartments for life.”  Humanitas buildings are vibrant communities targeted to seniors where anyone can live and flourish as they age.

There are so many things Dr. Becker gave us to think about during his four-day visit.  The one I’d like to talk about today is the “yes-culture” that he promotes amongst his staff.  Dr. Becker has four principles that govern his organization’s work, and he describes the fourth, the yes-culture, like this: 

“Any wish, suggestion, demand, complaint, initiative is met by “yes.”  Saying yes is the first answer.  If requests et cetera cannot be realized the next thing is the dialogue and finding a satisfactory compromise for all parties.”

Dr. Becker gave a great example of what this means in operation.  Here’s the story he told:

A resident approaches him and asks him to build a swimming pool.  He doesn’t have space or funds for a swimming pool, but in the yes culture, you don’t say, “No, we don’t have funds,” you say “Yes – that’s an interesting idea.”  And then you probe, to find out more.  “Where would you put it?” he asks next (perhaps he hasn’t thought of the best place to put it).  “Hmm…I don’t know,” replies the resident.  As their conversation continues, he engages the resident in the decision-making process around the pool, so the resident must ponder the multi-dimensional nature of the request.  Eventually, they get to the root of the problem – the resident just wants a place where they can sit and soak.  A better bathtub would do the trick, and it is exponentially cheaper than a pool.  A tub is something that Humanitas can provide.

This example illustrates how, when we say “no,” we close the door to conversation.  When we say “yes,” we open up all of the windows to let ideas, and unexposed problems, come in, so we can arrive at solutions that meet everyone’s needs.  Even more importantly, Dr. Becker would argue, is everyone feels listened to, and engaged in the world, an essential part of Humanitas’ approach to improving life for seniors.

Saying yes first isn’t easy, and it also isn’t just for fun and games, like Jim Carrey’s “Yes Man” (I am sure I am not the only one who thought of that when I heard “yes-culture.”).  It’s a great challenge to try to meet.  I hope that it is something JCHE can strive to do as we continue to grow and better ourselves.

Jessica Boatright is JCHE's Chief of Staff

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