If you know only one thing about improv comedy, it may very well be that you are familiar with the increasingly ubiquitous battle cry of the artform, Yes And. This pithy phrase is as catchy as it is feel-good, directing improvisers to agree with the ideas of their teammates and to constructively add on to them.
It’s easy to imagine why a Yes And mindset is helpful when improvising. After all, every improv scene is a low-grade emergency. They start nowhere, between no one, about nothing. You have maybe 30-45 seconds to establish what’s going on, or the audience will feel unsettled and potentially turn on you. If I say we’re at a doctor's office and you say we’re not, then we’ve wasted two lines, maybe 10 seconds, and damaged our mutual trust.
This same mindset can be useful when it comes to brainstorming, problem-solving and collaborating at work. If a colleague makes a suggestion then it is reasonable to assume there is a good reason for it. At times our natural instinct may be to critically analyze another’s suggestion and see if it can hold up under the pressure of such a review. But what if we were more inclined to build on an idea than tear it down?
By emphatically saying yes to the ideas of our colleagues, a few things will happen (I promise):
You will develop some ideas that are surprisingly excellent - ideas you would never have dreamed of on your own will unfurl before you as you bend to incorporate the contributions of others.
Your teammates will begin to contribute more often - empowered by your acceptance of their earlier contributions, those you work with will grow more confident and feel empowered to participate fully.
The Earth will not self-destruct, even if you approve a bad idea - it turns out many things that seem critical really aren’t.
Because of the status of this mantra as the number one concept associated with improv, it can be shared effectively when leading almost any improv exercise. Nonetheless, perhaps the exercises it makes the most sense to mention Yes And... during include: