What do improv comedy, dementia, and hackathons have in common?

Search Google for “improv rules” and pretty much any list will have a rule about saying “yes, and…” rather than “no, actually…”. When I provide dementia communication training, I always teach this basic improv rule. Saying “yes, and…” continues the conversation, while “no, actually…” ends the conversation. The joy in communication is the interaction.

As I transition from using my expertise in cognition from working as a speech-language pathologist with patients with cognitive impairment to a user advocate and UX designer, I am participating in new events such as hackathons.

Yesterday I participated in my first hackathon or hackfest as a part of Boulder Startup Week. To be honest, I was a little nervous, but it seemed like a rite of passage for entering the tech industry, so I signed up.

QuickLeft hosted a hackfest with the goal of answering the question, “Can we improve lives through humor using technology?” Teams had three hours to develop a solution.

Since I didn’t know anyone at the hackfest, I found a team with an empty chair and introduced myself. My four team members were students at the Turling School, learning to code. I am a UX designer and writer, so our team was pretty balanced in terms of talents.

My team had a great time. Someone told us that we were the the only team smiling while we were working. Why wouldn’t we be smiling; this was fun! My team members were solid collaborators. As we discussed ideas, we were supportive of each other. In retrospect, I realized we were using the “yes, and…” rule of improv.

One of my team members suggested the idea of creating an app that would allow people to vote on user generated jokes. This idea evolved through conversations utilizing “yes, and…”. This approach allowed our group to keep moving forward, like an improv sketch or a conversation, in developing a solution that uses humor and technology to improve lives. Our solution, Joke Booth, was awarded second place.

I had a great time. I even got to tell a ridiculous joke during the pitch (I farted in an elevator. It was wrong on so many levels.) I will definitely participate in a hackfest again.

I will keep saying “yes, and…” to new challenges! It keeps conversations, sketches, apps, and life moving forward.

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