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Things Jay Writes

Dare to Say Yes, And: #pinksocks and Improv

A few months ago, over Thanksgiving, I wrote a reflection that acknowledged a number of influencers on my life over the past couple of years. ( )

Two of them were Kelly Leonard of The Second City and Nick Adkins, founder of the worldwide pinksocks movement that is 40,000+ strong. Since then, I’ve been thinking about the strong alignment of the principles underlying both improv and pinksocks.

I won’t tell the pinksocks story here because the website Nick’s words tell it much better than I could. However, I’d like to share a few thoughts on where I see a common voice in the “heart speak” of improv and pinksocks. To frame these thoughts, I’ll borrow three direct quotes from Nick’s 2017 Tedx San Francisco talk, Dare to say YES!

1. Say Yes: “Yes is where the fun is! If you say no, the story ends.”

The most well-known principle of improv is Yes, And. Any improvisor who sees Nick’s quote above will immediately nod and smile. In improv, you not only say yes to your scene partner, you add to what they’ve offered and the story builds. Recently, I’ve been using two basic Second City exercises in innovation design sessions and other team-building meetings: (1) Yes, And, and (2) One Word Story. They are short, simple and seem to resonate every time. Try them! Practice avoiding the word “No” for a day. Practice avoiding the words “Yes, But.” Reading about Yes, And is great, but actively participating in these exercises will make it stick.

2. Gifting: “Your gift is simply accepting their gift, sitting in that moment and saying yes.”

Nick brought the principle of gifting from Burning Man several years ago and it is fundamental to the pinksocks movement. Perhaps someone sees your pinksocks and tells you that they like them. They smile, because the socks make them happy. You share space with them and make a human connection. Then you give them a pair of socks, expecting nothing in return. Perhaps you give them two — then they can do the same for someone else.

In improv, great scenes are built upon gifts from your scene partners. If you don’t stay in that moment and really listen, you might miss a gift. Improv is usually funny, but it’s often not about trying to be funny. It’s not stand-up comedy — it’s a true team sport, or as Kelly prefers, an ensemble activity. Often, the greatest gift you can give on stage is a solid initiation to a scene. Not a funny one-liner, but something real with specifics that triggers ideas for your scene partners. Be in the moment, accept gifts, and offer gifts that move the scene forward.

3. Empathy: “Empathy, what is it? It’s stopping your mind. It’s really seeing someone. It’s allowing yourself to be seen. It’s listening to their story. It’s feeling their story.”

Will Hines is a long-time improv teacher and performer with the Upright Citizens Brigade who wrote “How to be the Greatest Improvisor on Earth.” He boils down a number of improv “rules” that are often taught to three basic things that characters should generally do:

· KNOW what they’re doing

· CARE about whatever the main issues of the scene happen to be, and

· SAY how they feel about things

If improvisors do these things while listening and seeing with empathy, they will likely be good improvisors. And I believe that if you practice these things in your life, you will likely be a better person.

Call to action

So, if you’re in the pinksocks tribe and you’re not familiar with improv, I encourage you to expose yourself to it in some way. You could start by finding a local improv company and attending a show. You could even take a class — trust me, it’s transformational. Watch Kelly Leonard’s Ted Talk linked below, read his book Yes, And, and/or listen to his podcast, Getting to Yes, And. You might bring in improv professionals to conduct a workshop in your organization. Or simply start saying “Yes, And” more.

If you’re in improv and haven’t heard about the pinksocks movement, watch Nick’s Tedx Talk linked below. You already have a mindset that connects you to it, or perhaps another way of making human connections. Take the principles of improv out beyond your improv tribe — work, home, faith community, etc.

If you’re not in either of these tribes, try one, or both!

Nick’s web site closes with:

“The pinksocks are our reminder that shared connection is what it’s all about. Have fun! Smile! Give hugs! Life, it’s happening right now! Don’t miss it!”

LOVE MORE. fear less.

There’s a great video on the pinksocks web site under the title “pinksocks and the power of connection.” Towards the end, you see a circle of ten pinksocks tribe folks, in one large hug. That makes me smile and think about the new improv team I play with at Charlotte Comedy Theatre, Group Hugs ’n’ Harmony. We share that hug before and after shows. We’ve found a new tribe, new human connections. We’re learning how to be fearless together. And we are definitely having fun!

Group Hugs ’n’ Harmony at Charlotte Comedy Theatre, January 26, 2019

How to Learn More:

Nick’s Ted Talk:

Nick Adkins on Twitter: @nickisnpdx #pinksocks

Kelly Leonard & Tom Yorton’s Yes, And on Amazon:

Kelly Leonard’s Ted Talk:

Kelly Leonard’s Podcast — The Second City Works “Getting to Yes And”

The start of my improv journey at The Second City:




I’m Jay Gerhart and sometimes I write about innovation, improv or other stuff.

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Jay Gerhart

Jay Gerhart

I think the world is better with the theories of Dr. Clay Christensen, Human-Centered Design and Improv. Producer of A Sherpa's Guide to Innovation Podcast.

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