On "Yes, and..."

On "Yes, and..."

As an improviser, I love that the concept of “Yes, and…” has begun to be embraced by the corporate world. (Note all the corporate improvisers in the photo above). Many companies use this principle in brainstorming and development as a way to get as many ideas out there as possible. Here are the main reasons why I think “Yes, and...” is one of the best ways to collaborate.

 1. There’s no money in saying, “No.”

In improv, players are encouraged to say, “Yes, and…” to one another’s ideas. It’s a form of acceptance and support. First, you agree with what’s been said and then you add to it to keep the scene moving. The basic principle here is that saying, “No” is counter-productive.  

 “Doctor, can you remove this needle from my arm?”

“I’m not a doctor; I’m your mother!  And that’s not a needle; it’s a snake!”

Not the best scene. Look, when you improvise you are going onstage with nothing. So anything that your scene partner gives to you is a precious gift—it’s your responsibility to accept the gift and return the favor.

This is true in brainstorming as well. At the start of the session, everyone may have a few ideas that they bring to the table—however a final solution has yet to be determined. So shooting down an idea off the bat doesn’t really help anyone. It’s better to add as many ideas to the discussion as possible so that you can truly explore their potential. Sure, later in the session some ideas may be scrapped after more thorough vetting—but I bet that they lead to some ideas that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. I believe that in brainstorming, more is more. It’s much easier to weed through a ton of ideas to find the best one than it is to create a winner from the get-go.

2. Saying, “Yes” creates a healthy climate.

In order to perform improv well, confidence is key. If you worry for even a second that your scene partner won’t support you, then you’ll be entirely in your head and freeze. So the only way to get the best out of your scene partner is to back them up no matter what.

This is also crucial to successful brainstorming. If employees don’t feel confident contributing to the meeting, then they won’t operate at their best potential. As we’ve established, you want as many ideas as possible early on—and one way to accomplish this is to create a space in which no idea gets shot down.

We’ve all been in that meeting where someone pitched a curveball to the team only to be received by a brutal silence or awkward inhale. Not only does this hurt the confidence of that employee, it hurts the creative vibe of the room. Even if the idea is a dud, it’s more beneficial for the team to enthusiastically say “sure” and explore the concept—before inevitably trashing it. I’m not naïve, some ideas just aren’t feasible—but you won’t get any ideas if you create a climate in which people are afraid to contribute.

3. “And…” increases ownership.

My favorite part of improv is debriefing the show afterwards. Often, we’ll discuss the performance as a story that we had no control over. Everything that happened onstage seemed like a discovery in the moment.

“I can’t believe that the twins were in the courtroom!”

“Why did we start singing again?”

“I love the idea of a world where no one can pronounce ‘pyramid’ correctly.”

The reason for this phenomenon is the element of “and.” When you are required to build upon another person’s idea, the idea no longer belongs to just one person. It’s now our idea that we’re building together. 

The best brainstorming meetings end with the team leaving with a sense of ownership of what’s been decided. If you build upon one another’s ideas, then you all have a stake in the game and have all helped to flesh out the idea to it’s full potential.

“Yes, and…” is a very accessible way to approach collaborative creativity—it encourages acceptance and ownership while helping to create a healthy climate for discovery.