Saying “Yes, and” — A principle for improv, business & life

“Yes, and” is a pillar of improvisation. It’s the acceptance principle — when someone in a scene states something, accept it as truth. The “and” part of this principle means to build on that reality that has been set. Here’s how this may look in a scene:

EMMA: Molly, thank you for cleaning the kitchen. It’s spotless!
MOLLY: Emma, considering you had to take that emergency trip to visit your ill grandmother in Kansas, I’d be an awful housemate if I didn’t clean up around the house and leave you a nice clean kitchen to come to upon your return.

Emma tells us where we are (a kitchen) and Molly accepts that reality and builds on, telling us that Emma and her live together and Emma took an emergency trip to Kansas to visit her ill grandmother.

Imagine if Molly did not “yes, and” in that part of the scene. It would’ve looked a bit more like this…

Emma: Molly, thank you for cleaning the kitchen. It’s spotless!
Molly: What kitchen?! We’re in a hostel!

Yikes! Where’s the scene to go from here? Maybe they continue arguing about where they are and that’s not fun for the audience to watch. We don’t get to the juicy details of the relationship if they can’t even agree on where they are.

It’s as simple as saying YES.

Now that we know the fundamentals for the “yes, and” principle, let’s dive into it deeper…beyond improv. “Yes, and” is more than just a concept to make an improv scene wonderful, it’s a philosophy healthy for business and life.

Think about it. You’re in a meeting with your business partner and a prospective investor. You’re sharing about your company with the investor and he (let’s be honest, statistically the investor is likely to be a ‘he’) interrupts to ask you a question (another reality — the investor will interrupt you). Here’s how that situation may go down if you aren’t using the “yes, and” principle….

YOU: We’re growing 30% month over month and we’ll keep up that trajectory over the..
INVESTOR: Where is that growth coming from and is it repeatable and scalable?
YOU: We have a low cost per click in Facebook ads and have optimized our SEO to drive search traffic.
YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER: Well actually, most of our growth is coming from our partnerships.

Oh snap.

Your business partner just used the “no, but” principle, which will kill your fundraising meeting and cause a slight increase in belly fat (if you don’t believe me on that one, just ask Tina Fey).

Let’s try that again. This time with “yes, and”

YOU: We’re growing 30% month over month and we’ll keep up that trajectory over the..
INVESTOR: Where is that growth coming from and is it repeatable and scalable?
YOU: We have a low cost per click in Facebook ads and have optimized our SEO to drive search traffic.
YOUR BUSINESS PARTNER: Yes, we have strong SEO and SEM campaigns, and we also have partnerships with retail brands driving additional growth.

Saying “no” decreases trust and makes you and your business partner look less competent. You’re building a company together, so build your story together. If you’re going to argue about where growth is coming from, save it for after your fundraising meeting.

Or if you’re having a team meeting and some contributors on the team are sharing ideas. For every “no” you say you’re discouraging the contributors from sharing ideas in the future. Sure you won’t be able to incorporate every idea, but the point is to acknowledge someone’s ideas so that they feel their ideas are at least listened to and considered. This encourages sharing ideas in the future as well.

Try it out for yourself. Start saying “yes, and”.

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Improv4 takes improv outside the theater, applying improv exercises and techniques to helping people improve their businesses and lives. Learn more and book a workshop for your group at www.improv4.com

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