But that won’t work

But that won’t work

Say what!?

John Wolpert, on my LinkedIn radar due to his former involvement with blockchain pioneer ConsenSys, released a book about Momentum Thinking or, as he calls it, the Two But Rule. I had no idea what either meant. Seeing that I am on a bit of a reading spree these days anyway, the tagline, “Turn Negative Thinking Into Positive Solutions” tickled my curiosity enough to pick this one up.

So that I don’t forget all about this and to try and apply his advice in my very own real life, I’m setting out here to distill a little recipe based on my understanding of the iterative Two But process.

In essence, the first but (1But) highlights a critical point. The second but (2BUT) offers a fix. Further buts then line up in the same vein so that there is always an even number of buts in the string of thoughts.


  • There is a problem to solve or opportunity to seize that leads to a benign, meaningful and constructive intention.
  • The purpose of the objection, the 1But, is to seek truth and achieve a productive outcome, not to simply insist on your own opinion without budging or further contemplation.
  • Be openminded throughout the process. Defensiveness and resistance kill creativity.

Ideal outcome

If run well, there are two possible outcomes to this process:

  • Decision to stop. Take away your learnings and move on.
  • Decision to go.

If it’s a go, you want to end up with actionable 2BUTs that are technically feasible and psychologically acceptable. These should be based on verifiable facts and/or readily testable assumptions.

Ideally, you want to respect everyone’s needs while still honouring the original intention. Hence, the best outcome is not compromise but creative ways to address all reasonable desires and objections. Note that addressing someone’s need does not necessarily mean accepting their specific proposal.


  1. State the intention.
  2. Raise the 1But with the reason for the objection.
    • “But that won’t work because…”
    • Now you get an idea of how tricky the challenge might be.
  3. Right away follow up with the 2BUT, the constructive proposal that addresses the 1But.
    • “BUT it would work if…”
    • You don’t have to provide a particularly good 2BUT as long as it maintains momentum.
  4. Collect as many 1But-2BUT pairs as come to mind in the allotted time.
    • In addition to your own or someone else’s brain, you might want to leverage AI, such as ChatGPT, for this. Even if it “hallucinates”, no harm done because you’ll be validating any 2BUTs anyway and off-the-wall suggestions might stimulate your own butting creativity.
  5. Repeat the 1But-2BUT iteration up to 5 times by building on each preceding 2BUT to make sure you arrive at the root cause of the problem.
    • If you risk getting stuck on a problem and mulling it over endlessly, try breaking it down to first principles. That’s done with a “fuzzy” 2BUT to blur the original concrete idea while still honouring the underlying long-term intention.
  6. Spend at least about 1.5 hours (and no more than 3 hours) on the Two But game.
  7. Prioritise the most actionable 2BUT that promises the greatest learnings for the effort invested.
  8. Run an experiment to test the chosen 2BUT. This should take a few hours to a couple of days, generally no more than a week. If it takes longer, there might be several experiments hidden inside. It’s advisable to break the exercise up and pick the one experiment that will bring the most valuable insights.
  9. To evolve your proposal with the gained learnings, you might want to repeat the Two But game for 4 or 5 rounds.

Words of caution

A group discussion that’s getting stuck on circular arguments indicates that you’re talking past each other in a series of 1Buts and probably don’t truly understand each other’s intentions. Strive to understand them before making any decisions on next steps. Accept that it may become apparent that you’re unreconcilably misaligned, not everyone’s intentions are benign or some other ultimately unproductive roadblock. In that case, the wisest last 2BUT is quite possibly to call it a day.

Getting stuck on little buts or trying to short-cut the process may indicate that your level of intent is too low. The correct 2BUT, then, is to let go and make room for meaningful intentions before wasting resources on a lost cause that you won’t see through anyway.

Further reading