For the past year or so I’ve taken classes in improvisation at both The Second City and the IO theater. (Think improv comedy, ask for a suggestion and create a 20 minute scene from the suggestion.) In the time I’ve spent at both institutions of improv there has been one very clear rule behind being successful… “Yes, and…”
Now I doubt you’re reading this to learn how to perform improved scenes, but stay with me through this example. When you’re exploring a thought, say in a scene someone says “Hey Mom, I’m so sorry about forgetting your birthday.” You can’t really respond with… “I’m not your mother.” (I mean you can, but it would crush the momentum established in just one line of dialog.) From that one line you were given a bunch of resources to work with. (in improv we call them gifts) You are now this person’s mother, it was just your birthday, and you’re emotional response to this person is based on being forgotten. That is why you say “yes” to the resources/gifts you are given. Of course you can’t just say “yes”, because then your partner on stage would have to supply the scene with all its resources/gifts. You have to add “and…”. The “and…” is where you take your resources and heighten the scene with more information. (Information about your emotions, your wants, your partners status etc.) So now that we’ve walked through “Yes, and…” lets show how it works to make “better” ideas.
People always talk about wanting to do some “brainstorming”. “Thinking outside the box” is often the line of corporate jargon used. Here is the problem, lots of people don’t realize that a brainstorm is just like the improv situation above. First someone has to establish a list of resources to get the ball rolling in some direction. Then as a group you have to take turns saying “yes” to the basic ideas people through out there and then exploring the basic idea further by adding to it. Here’s an example: “I like the idea of Facebook voting on which charity gets X, and we could have the amount of X that is given to the charity determined by the number of check-ins on foursquare.” (Here”s where that campaign came from- Check Ins That Make A Difference )
Dealing with Restrictions
So brainstorming is great… except I don’t know about you, but when in the history of the world has everything been in the scope of possibilities? So for the rest of us, who have a list of goals to achieve or red tap to deal with, here is how I use “Yes, and…” Restrictions are resources. Restrictions are gifts. Restrictions allow you to focus, but they don’t mean you can’t imagine. Think for your budget as a gift, think of your goal as a gift, if you accept them all you are responsible for is the “and…” It’s like a math equation (sorry to bring Math into it) -
In a brainstorm, you have to define a, b, c, and d. (That is 4 different chances to get it wrong.) If you have a list of restrictions maybe now the equations looks like this -
Budget(Length of Program-c)+3(Social Media Platform)=Awesome Idea
You know your budget is $X, you know your program has to run the week after Christmas because that’s when your sale is, and you know that your company is big on Twitter so that’s the Social Media Platform you need to use. So now all you have to do is come up with what puts them all together. (And guess what? There are a lot of things that do.) Now with your new equation you go back to the brainstorm to figure out what “c” is.
While there is no true formula for a Great Idea… every great idea is the product of an equation that balances a number of inputs with one great output. An output and group of inputs that require you to say “Yes, and…” to develop. No great idea started with “No”. (And for those playing the advanced version of this game, if someone only says “Yes” but never seems to heighten… that’s just another way to say “No”.) Great ideas come from real collaboration… Yes, and…
Thanks for listening,