Monday, December 22, 2014

Yes, And Principle - An Improv Technique at Work

Improvisational comedy troops use a number of techniques to help them work together seamlessly, building instantly upon each others ideas, able to adapt readily to any changes in direction and content that are thrown at them.

One technique I invite you to steal, and use as your own, is the Yes, And Principle.  This technique provides you with a structured way of thinking and responding to other people's thoughts and ideas. All too often we barely listen to what the other party is saying, preparing instead our rebuttal. The Yes, And technique begins from a position of requiring you to have listened fully to what the other party was sharing. You can't possibly know how to respond if you haven't heard what was said.

When we follow someones comments immediately with our own, without there being any connection between their comments and our own, it can sound as though we are dismissing, disinterested in, or disagree with, their thoughts.  It can sound like we are saying 'no', serving to negate the perceived value of what they were sharing.

Beginning our response with Yes, And... serves to build upon their ideas rather than negate them. While an immediate 'no' shows you have not been open to ever exploring their idea further, the 'Yes' shows an openness to and acceptance of the idea they offered. It is supportive and open, demonstrating that you trust and value their opinion.

The 'And' then builds upon the ideas already brought forth, rather than starting over or tearing down the previous ideas.  It helps the team continue to remain open to exploring new and different ideas, all of which serve to enhance the end result.

In business, there are two areas in which the Yes, And Principle can immediately be implemented, to positive benefit...

  1. Brainstorming.  This is a great tool to use in developing and building ideas because it leaves all paths open.  Closing ideas off too soon can limit the directions available to you, while keeping ideas open allows you to circle back, in ways you might not have been able to imagine previously, enabling you to create something bigger and better.  In brainstorming the 'Yes' serves to acknowledge and accept others' ideas, while the 'And' allows for an elaboration of the idea, building and extending upon it.  In Apple you might have heard...
      • I think we should consider making a 'better' phone...
      • Yes, and... wouldn't it be great if it took pictures...
      • Yes, and... we could create games and apps that let people use it like a mini computer
      • Yes, and...
  2. Feedback.  When providing people with constructive criticism and feedback on their ideas, we often mistakenly jump immediately to areas that require improvement or additional thought.  In essence, we highlight the flaws in their thinking. This can end up sounding negative, which may shut the other person down.  Instead, begin with Yes, And.  The yes immediately creates a supportive dialogue, which leads the other party to remain open to listening further. It creates a powerful attitude of affirmation that helps inspire trust. You can then follow with what is good about their idea highlighting what works, before then sharing how you think it could be better, offering your suggested improvements.  
Improvisational comedians are masters at listening to and building upon others ideas.  To create a seamless and unified experience for the audience, they must be prepared to abandon their 'vision' as being the one true vision, and be prepared to accept whatever any of the other team members present, viewing it as a gift. Rather than tossing it aside, they hold onto it, adding to it with their own ideas, enabling the skit to grow and develop.  Without the openness and willingness to accept what comes before 'you' will create a skit that is disjointed and disconnected.  The power of the Yes, And technique can serve you in much the same way, allowing those around you to feel valued, while still enabling you to have an impact on the direction taken. That's what building a team is all about.  

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