I’ve always been fascinated by improv theater. During this year’s inaugural Work Human conference, Globoforce invited Boston’s Improv Asylum to conduct a session on business improv. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to learn more.
I know one of the key principles is the idea of “Yes, and…” What was great about the Improv Asylum’s session was how they used activities to help us understand where the phrase comes from and why it is important in business. Through a series of humorous sketches, they showed us how conversations evolve depending upon the way you respond. For example:
When we respond with “no”, the conversation is limited. The word “no” stops the idea from being developed. “No” can not only stall the idea but take the conversation in a negative direction. “No” can cause distrust and people will play it safe so they don’t run the risk of failure – whether that’s the person putting the idea on the table or the person saying “no”.
When we respond with being a “Devil’s advocate”, we can stop the conversation as well. Yes, it’s true that being a contrarian can bring value to the discussion. There are times when we need to consider the harshest critic. But only when it’s done at the right time and in the right way. If the majority of the discussion is focused on defending the idea, then Devil’s advocate is disrupting the process for not being supportive.
When we try to soften our skepticism with a questioning technique that can take the conversation in either a negative or positive direction. A rapid fire of questions can limit the conversation. You might think you’re clarifying details when you’re really shutting the conversation down.
Which leads us to where “Yes, and…” comes in. The goal is to move the conversation forward by adding to the initial thought. This isn’t as easy as it looks. To effectively use the “Yes, and…” technique, a person must be courageous enough to put their idea on the table AND confident enough to have their idea altered or expanded.
Organizational cultures that support the use of “Yes, and … “ are benefiting from the results created through the use of creativity and innovation . They are building cultures that are non-judgmental when it comes to ideas. All ideas are valuable because using the “Yes, and…” technique creates ideas that everyone helped to develop.
That’s what teamwork is all about. It’s not one person’s idea. It’s everyone’s idea. And the way it becomes everyone’s idea is through the use of “Yes, and…”
If you want to introduce the idea of “Yes, and…” to your organization, here’s a quick meeting icebreaker you can use to start the dialogue. It’s based upon the 1971 television series “Electric Company”. Break the group into pairs. Have one person say the first word that comes to mind. The second person needs to put another word with it. The pair then says the new word. Example:
1st person “Car”
2nd person “Sun”
The point of the activity is that two people were able to work together to create something new. “Yes, and…” allows the company to make that happen on a bigger scale. Think about what your organization could accomplish if the answer to every question was “Yes, and…”
Image courtesy of Sharlyn Lauby1