Note to readers: Today’s post is the second this year from my daughter Aden Kirschner, an improvisational team building expert here at The Art Of Change, and I think you’re going to enjoy it. Here’s ADEN!
A while back a very good friend and colleague posed this question about saying ‘YES’ in Improv, and how that applies off stage and in business.
“In the improv world, any choice is generally a good choice — as long as we commit to it, we can build a scene together. But in the corporate world (in my experience), we are usually working together to solve a specific problem or satisfy a particular need. So in a brainstorming session, for example, it doesn’t always serve to “yes, and” the first idea suggested as we would in an improv show. We want to build on an idea that will satisfy the need we’re targeting, and this seems to require discriminatory thinking, which seems to be opposite of ‘yes, and.’ How do you reconcile/incorporate this into the improv toolbox we are offering?”
Before I answer the question, here’s just a little more background. In the world of improv we operate under a general understanding, and one of the fundamental concepts we utilize is the thing we label ‘Yes! And…’ which generally stands for accepting other peoples ideas and building on them as an automatic move, instead of turning down their ideas, or asking questions about their ideas. It can be done figuratively, or by literally employing the words. For example:
Person 1, “it’s a beautiful day today!”
Person 2, “Yes! And…that’s because I finally perfected my weather making machine!”
Person 1, “Yes Jenny! And… our parents will be so proud!”
Using this method allows us to get a lot of information out quickly, names, relationships, plot points and so on, so that we can build what looks like rehearsed stage material in a completely spontaneous way. Instant enthusiastic agreement, is integral to a significant percentage of improv stage work!
AND…. it turns out instant enthusiastic agreement works incredibly effectively in corporate settings as well. BUT as my father often says, in matters of communication a little goes a long way, and my colleague is correct that when a specific, targeted result is desired there must be a balance.
OK. So how do we reconcile ‘Yes! And…’ with critical, discriminatory thinking? How does it serve us to shift our default responses to YES before tapping into our ability to say No? Well, let’s look at what ‘Yes! And…’ actually does for us.
Part of what we learn from playing with ‘Yes! And,’ and I mean in practice (practice makes perfect!), is how to make choices and then commit to the choices we make quickly and powerfully. Why is this important? Because we like to play with people who play with commitment. When I work with another facilitator, a performer on stage, or a client, it’s always true that I want to know that whoever I work with takes what I say seriously, just like if you and I are working together, you want to know that I will do the same for you! What it boils down to is that we as a people value follow through and ‘Yes! And…’ teaches us that it’s ok to value follow through for worse as well as better . Even when our endeavors fail, we don’t dwell on that failure, instead we focus on what to improve, what to cut, and what to keep as is. This is the mentality of learning to “take the game seriously and yourself not,” and it serves our relationships and our long term commitments over our short term fears and hang-ups.
Saying YES is also good for making decisions. Building out ideas is a great way to generate material, and it turns out to be useful for critical evaluation as well!
In 2012 I did a small internal project with a marketing group for a large tech company and here is what we did (please steal this for your teams!). We did a multiple round brainstorming session and the rules were simple.
Round one, the team was only allowed to build off of each others ideas and inspiration. ‘No’ was completely taken off the table while we generated ideas. Within five minutes we had generated over 50 ideas. Some of those were plausible, some not, and some were completely outlandish… but all of them were part of our idea generation phase.
Round two, we came back around with the intent of narrowing down our scope for the project. However, instead of eliminating stuff off the list, we instructed the group to simply keep the ideas that most excited them, which is a great practical application of using ‘yes’ to employ discriminatory thinking… by making it a multi step process, people felt comfortable tabling their fear based ‘no’ response long enough to come up with multiple ideas that fit their targeted message. After just a few minutes, we had 5 ideas out of the initial 50 that everyone agreed they were really excited about, no need to talk about the other 45 that would not work!
Round three, we got into small ‘Yes! And’ circles and built out each one of these five ideas, and presented all of those fully fleshed out ideas to each other. Then once again, the group picked their two favorite; and even better, were able to borrow ideas from the other three plans that weren’t necessarily great in total, but had useful parts.
Round four was similar to round three, but now we only had to pick one final concept. And the best part? The total amount of time it took to go from idea generation to completed concept was less than two hours. Two hours to accomplish what would normally take days, weeks, maybe even months to achieve.
Part of that is because ‘no’ becomes less powerful the more and more we use it. Instead of turning down ideas being evidence of our critical thinking, It turns out that when someone says no to all of the ideas all of the time, it is usually out of fear, or what I like to call “Fear: The Innovation Slayer!”
I’m not saying never say ‘no!’ (ironic?) I’m simply suggesting that you use your critical thinking skills to sharpen your ‘no’ into a surgical tool, instead continuing to hold on to it as a blunt bludgeoning object.
When to Yes! And…
As I mentioned before, in matters of communication a little goes a long way! So here is a short list of when it’s good to use ‘Yes! And…”
- To be the kind of person that people want to come to with ideas.
- To flesh out an existing idea..
- When you are looking to find common ground with people.
- To remove conversation blocks and find solutions to problems.
- To shift your default from fear of the unknown, to curiosity about what’s possible.
For a longer list of wheres and ways to use ‘Yes! And…’ while still maintaining a discerning and critical thought pattern please share your ideas with us in the comments!