Ifs, Ands & Buts

(aka the Steve Jobs effect)

We have all heard the expressions: 'He’s a great competitor BUT……', 'She’s great technically BUT……', 'The kids always get better, BUT…….', 'Its a great program, BUT…….' Whenever I hear these things, I can't help wondering whether we are burying the lead.

Steve Jobs used to be considered a genius. Then later, people would acknowledge his genius and quietly say: 'BUT I've heard that he's a bit of an arsehole'. Now when people talk about him, Jobs is a genius AND also an arsehole. And you know what, I much prefer this last description. Though what I'd like most is to think of what he would have been like IF he was a genius and not an arsehole.

I recently read this, horrible story where a former player described the sports program as 'a very good program, BUT we played under fear'. This is a program where it seems likely players were abused physical, mentally, emotionally and sexually, BUT it is first described as a 'very good program'. The most appalling part of this story to me is not the descriptions of athletes' treatment, but the fact that it is somehow considered ok because the players got better and the teams won. The 'lead' should not be the fact that the program was successful.

In an activity like coaching, which is primarily about personal relationships with other human beings, it concerns me that we fail both children and adults by using BUT where we should at the very least be using AND. Not only that, we so rarely actually question the premise. What IF we didn't accept the premise that being a 'good program' is even possible without meeting minimum standards for treating human beings. What IF we turned the statement around and said: 'it would be a good program, IF the players weren't abused.'

My challenge to everyone is to use this little Key below whenever you are hearing people / coaches / programs described:

  •  BUT - be wary, this is not actually a good coach/program, despite the fact they probably win / succeed
  •  AND - be wary, this coach / program has some negatives, but at least people are recognising positives and negatives so nothing is being covered up
  •  IF - emphasise the 'lead' by using IF, and acknowledging that we can set higher standards than just athletic or business achievement

(Photo Credit)


  1. nice and simple. I like it.

  2. This rings so true of good and bad programs alike.
    I will definitely implement some of this language myself having thought about it more now

    1. Thanks Chris. Hope things are going well with you.


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