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The Most Powerful Three Letter Word

Professor Damian Hughes

28 July 2014

In this blog, Professor Damian Hughes discusses changing mindsets in order to encourage positive change and development.


Kids love to declare that they’re not good at something. They usually do it just after they try something new and challenging. They say it with finality as if issuing a verdict.

 “I’m not good at maths” or “I’m not good at football”.

At that moment, our normal parental/teacher/coach instinct is to fix the situation. To boost the kid up by saying something persuasive like, “Oh yes you are!” Which never works because it puts the kid in the position of actively defending their ineptitude. It’s a lose-lose situation.

It’s the same with adults. I have been in so many businesses where the resident cynics announce that a new change is doomed to failure. ‘We don’t do change here,’ I was once told.

So here’s another idea: ignore the instinct to fix things. Don’t try to persuade. Instead, simply add the word “yet”.

You add the “yet” quietly, in a matter-of-fact tone, as if you were describing the weather or the law of gravity.

“I’m not good at maths” becomes “You’re not good at maths yet.”

“I’m not good at football” becomes “You’re not good at football yet.”

“I’m not good at IT” becomes “You’re not good at IT yet.”

The message is: Of course you’re not good — because you haven’t worked at it. But when you do, you will be good.

At first glance it seems silly — how can just one word make a difference?

The answer has to do with the way our brains are wired to respond to self-narratives. That’s where Dr. Carol Dweck and her work on mindset comes in. Through a series of remarkable experiments, she’s shown how small changes in language — even a few words — can affect performance.

Her work has shown that the way we frame questions that relate to talent matter hugely. If we put the focus on “natural ability,” kids tend to be less engaged and put in less effort (after all, if it’s just a genetic lottery, then why should I try?). When we place the focus on effort, however, kids tend to try harder and are more engaged.

How about you? Are your beliefs fixed or do you leave yourself open to the possibility of change?


This blog is adapted from the Raise the Bar book ‘Raising the Bar: A Leader’s Guide’ by bestselling author Damian Hughes. The book takes twenty-five great lessons from the most engaging leaders.

Click here to find out more about Damian, or get in touch with our team at for more information on his availability.

Professor Damian Hughes


Professor Damian Hughes is a bestselling author who combines his practical
and academic background within sport, organisational development and change psychology, to help organisations and teams to create a high performing culture.

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