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For years, professional improvisers have been working as teams on stage. In order to move the improvised scenes forward and create an entertaining experience for the audience, these teammates have developed excellent communication, collaboration, and in-the-moment problem solving skills which translate nicely into the workplace. This movement of teaching the business world to use the same skill-set as improvisers is called Applied Improvisation.  

In the 1970’s British playwright, Keith Johnstone, wrote about his theory of Yes…and. He basically said that forward movement relies on the idea of mentally saying “Yes, I accept the offer and from here I will take it there”. Acceptance of the offer given is vital to the advancement of the improvised scene or play. Acceptance does not mean agreement. Let’s say one improviser tells the other to wash the dishes and sweep the floor. In the scene, agreement may not be present. It would be funnier if the two did not agree. However, by accepting the offer, the player on the receiving end might choose to act disgruntled and pretend to break a dish or trip a sibling with the broom. The Yes….and was applied.  

In business, an offer may be given in a team meeting. Perhaps John suggests the presentation is made with PowerPoint. Susan doesn’t like PowerPoint. She prefers Prezi. Instead of saying “Yeah, but PowerPoint is not as impressive in a presentation”, she would be applying the Yes…and by saying “Yes, I agree a visual presentation is a great idea. Prezi offers a variety of eye catching features and is available online. Would you like to consider that option, too?”  Clearly, the Yes…and moved the conversation forward. The Yeah…but stopped progress in its tracks.  

Bring the application of this powerful collaboration model to your organization. A fun way to teach Yes…and is through an old improve game. At your next staff or team meeting take a minute to illustrate by playing “Party Planners”. Two people will work together to plan a party. Maybe a Luau or a Fiesta. Start with the Yes…and. Have each person make a suggestion. After every suggestion, the other party planner will say “Yes, and” then add something to the plan. Even if the idea the other person makes is silly or unacceptable, use the Yes…and to modify the idea and move forward.

Here is an example:
Joe: Let’s plan a luau!                        
Sue: Yes, and we can have Mai Tai’s                        
Joe: Yes, and for our friends who don’t drink alcohol we can offer Hawaiian Punch!                        
Sue: Yes, and we can put those cute little umbrellas in them.                        
Joe: Yes, and we can make flower leis for the guests.                        
Sue: Yes, and we can have a few that are silk for people with allergies.                        
Joe: Yes, and we can roast a pig in the ground.                        
Sue: Yes, and maybe smoke a brisket for our friends who don’t eat pork. I’ll cook the purple potatoes!                        
Joe: Yes, and I’ll play the Ukulele!  

Next, reverse the scenario and show how poorly the same planning session can go if Yeah…but is employed. Plan a vacation. But, every idea is met with Yeah…but. 

Here is an example.                                
Joe: Let’s go to Florida!                                
Sue: Yeah, but it’s so hot in Florida. How about New York?                                
Joe: Yeah, but New York is crowded. Florida has Disney.                                
Sue: Yeah, but I hate mice. New York has history.                                
Joe: Yeah, but NY has real mice and crowds. I want to visit the ocean.                                
Sue: Yeah, but NY has an ocean, too. Crowds are everywhere.  

Clearly, Joe and Sue are getting nowhere real fast planning the vacation. Yes….and moved the party forward. Yeah…but stopped the vacation in its tracks. When your teammates see this exercise in this fun, relatable setting, it will be obvious to everyone how applying the Yes…and at your next planning session or team meeting will be beneficial to each individual and the entire organization.  

Finally, a hidden benefit of bringing the Yes…and to your organization is the impact it will have on each individual and their families. When applied properly in daily life, the Yes…and will enhance relationships in the professional and personal lives of your teammates making them happier and ultimately more productive individual members of your collaborative community.


Until next time, Keep Calm and Employ On!

Lisa Smith


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