I’ve learned many great skills from the world of comedy. One of the best was something I learned when I was studying improvisation at The Comedy Store. It’s a great tip that you can either use on your own or when you’re having a discussion with someone else, or a team of people. It’s a tip that stops any negativity during a discussion by completely eliminating the opportunity for someone to say, “No” or “but…”. If you’ve ever been talking to someone who uses these words a lot, you’ll recall how debilitating they can be, especially in the brainstorming stage of a project. So let’s get them out of the way for a few moments shall we?
It very simply boils down to this: whenever someone has finished talking, or suggesting an idea, the next words someone else says has to be, “YES, and…”.
It sounds simple (because it is), but this one idea will virtually eliminate negativity from a discussion which, when brainstorming, is absolutely key. In improv comedy, a player cannot deny what another person creates; you start the scene with nothing and it builds. If a player creates a bit where he is playing tennis with Stevie Wonder, another player cannot come in and pretend that they are now in a submarine in the artic; you unquestioningly accept the other players ideas as true and build from there.
If you’re generating ideas, or trying to tackle a specific problem, you can use the “yes and…” approach to keep a positive and encouraging atmosphere in the team:
“..how about we increase our prices and make the cars out of aluminium to cut costs?”
“Yes and…we could look at other ways of saving costs, giving us even more options….”
“Yes and…we could look at even more markets to sell the cars.”
“Yes and…we could develop bigger cars for different markets.”
“Yes and…we could also branch out into other forms of transport.”
“Yes and…” just makes everything flow better. It keeps everything positive, acknowledges the previous suggestion by accepting it as true and builds on it. This helps people develop confidence in coming forward with ideas. It also helps you think bigger whilst also keeping everything on track, as it encourages a very linear and more focused development of an idea.
It can also be useful when working on your own. Just start every sentence or idea with “yes and…” and see where it takes you.
Will every idea be golden?
In fact, some of your ideas will be shockingly bad, but it’s OK. After all, you’re playing the “yes and…” game, so you won’t realise it yet.