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Say Yes!

[Newsletter Series (#9)]

These past two months, we’ve touched on the improv principle of “Yes, and…” in various forms and contexts, because so much of this idea is inextricably tied to all the others.

Awareness > yes to the present moment

Listening > yes to paying attention

Interdependence > yes to partnership and collaboration

Vulnerability > yes to letting down our guard and celebrating mistakes

Engagement > yes to receiving from one another

Non-Judgment > yes to shared views/ideas/perspectives

Embrace Change > yes to unanticipated shifts

Start Anywhere > yes to beginning

And here we are, with our final “S” in our Aliveness Scaffolding.

Now, I want to be very clear about what we mean when we say, “Yes, and…” It does not always mean agreement or compliance, which I know can seem counterintuitive. Instead, the improv community uses “Yes, and…” to mean accept (an idea, suggestion, offer) and progress (move forward). An example may help explain.

Improv scene: Two people enter a scene, built on the audience suggestion: Grandma’s tea party.

Player 1: “Hey grandma, I’m so excited to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this party all week! Are you serving your famous bologna finger sandwiches?

Player 2: “No, dear. I don’t make those anymore.”

Player 1: “ Oh look, your best friend Grace is here!”

Player 2: “Honey, that’s not Grace. That’s Sheila from church…”

Player 1: “Um, alright then…”

Hmmm...If Player 2 shuts down Player 1 another time, this whole scene is dead in the water. However, if they’d employed the “Yes, and…” rule here, we could have had a riveting scene. Who knows? Grandma’s bologna sandwiches could have been laced with pot! Or maybe her friend Grace is super shady and ends up heisting Grandma’s jewelry before the tea party even gets started!

Saying yes is accepting the offers from our partner and using that information to push the story forward. And spoiler alert: if we practice this skill in life and business, some pretty amazing things can happen. Check it out.

Real-world scene: Sisters planning their dad’s 50th birthday party

(Sister 1 is a little more wild/outlandish than Sister 2)

Sister 1: “So...I was thinking we could rent out AT&T Park for the party!”

Sister 2: “Yes, and...we may want to save money on the venue so we can hire that awesome band.”

Sister 1: “Yes, and...get the band to play only ZZ Top covers!”

Sister 2: “Yes, and...we might want to mix up the music so we keep all the guests happy.”

Sister 1: “Yes, and...if they’re loving the beats, they’ll probably drink more. We should hand out tequila shooters and see what happens next!”

Sister 2: “Yes, and...remember what happened last time dad did a shooter?”

Sister 1: “Yes, and...oh man...I can’t un-see that.”

See that? Accept and progress.

Now, I’m sure I don’t have to point out the myriad of places this comes in handy in life, but I will anyway, because I love to geek out on this stuff.

  • Business planning

  • Product ideation

  • Creative brainstorming

  • Planning a trip

  • Negotiating with our kids

  • Debating with friends

  • Decision making with our spouses/partners

The alternative to “Yes, and…” is the sneaky and elusive “Yes, but…”, which is really just a way to push our own agenda in front of the offers our partners give. In other words, the but in “Yes, but…” screams ME, ME, ME!

“Yes (uh-huh, whatever), but (let me tell you my better/smarter idea)...”

The but can also serve as practical, rationale roadblock that tees up all the reasons something isn’t possible or “wrong”.

“Yes (uh-huh, whatever), but (it’ll cost too much, take too much time, is a lame idea)...”

Any of this sound familiar? Sure it does. We have all been part of a “Yes, but…” conversation. They happen all the time, in lieu of accepting for the sake of generative collaboration.

Keith Johnstone, a pioneer of improv theater, has a delightful quote about

the power of yes:

“There are people who prefer to say 'yes' and there are people who prefer to say 'no'. Those who say 'yes' are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say 'no' are rewarded by the safety they attain.”

I love his use of the word safety here. Safety from differing ideas, new/different direction, beliefs that don’t directly align with our own. Because when we serve each other a “No, but…” instead of a “Yes, and…” we make the choice to be unchanged. And let’s be honest, we need all the colors and texture of change we can get these days. It’s what makes us beautifully human. It’s what makes our world brilliantly diverse.


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