"Yes, AND…"

I just started taking an improv class at Stanford–the decision to take this class was spontaneous and I hadn’t given much thought to what I wanted to get out of it; it just looked like fun. Having had the first class this week, I had some interesting takeaways that will stay with me as a parent, a manager, a designer:

Dan, the instructor, had everyone break up into groups of four and pretend we were on a planning committee to work on a task (e.g. redesign a city park, plan a vacation, etc). The first round, we were instructed to respond to every suggestion with “No…”. In the second round, we were told to respond with “Yes, but…”. In the third round, we responded with “Yes, and…”

The effects of these various responses were profound. Even though we were only in a mock situation and following orders, the impact of having someone say “No” to every suggestion was a real downer, limited the flow of ideas, and even affected people’s body language and physical interactions. Feelings of resentment surfaced toward people who rejected well-formed ideas, even though they were acting on orders.

In the “Yes, but…” condition, people were more animated, but this passive-aggressive way of saying “no” still killed creativity and people’s willingness to advocate for their ideas. Watching this scene unfold, “Yes, but…” mirrored countless business meetings we’ve all had.

In contrast, “Yes, and…” generated the wackiest and most innovative ideas, and was certainly the most fun to participate in and watch. “Yes, and…” created implicit ground rules that people were not to judge others ideas but to accept them all, and to build on top of them. People started to lean in closer to each other and make physical connections with a touch of the shoulder or brush of the arm in affirmation. They were smiling and jumping up and down. Everyone felt like a winner coming out of the conversation.

“Yes, and…” captures the essence of what is needed for a successful brainstorm: divergent thinking, nonjudgmental acceptance of ideas, ideas built off of others. Children naturally have this gift for “Yes, and…”, but we lose this over time. “Yes, and…” is an excellent mnemonic to help stimulate creativity and be more positive. When is the last time you said “Yes, and…”?