Yes, and…

I love trying new things. This is where improv comedy comes into play. As of right now, I am no good. But, each time I go I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn and to be among people a hell of a lot funnier than I am.

One of the fundamental principles of improv comedy is the concept of “yes, and…”

It’s simple, yet vital – when you are on the stage with a group, improvising a scene (nothing is written), you need to support each other. If someone sets up a scene saying that you are Grandma and I am the milkman, then I have to agree that I am the milkman. This is the “yes” – the agreement (you don’t have to explicitly say “yes”). From there, I build the “and” in. I might say, “This street is my territory, and you ma’am are waaaay over your milk quota this month.”

Hopefully, the setup would be a little more ingenious than thats, but you get the point.

Here’s an example that does not follow the “yes, and…” rule. OK, so you walk in and again you say you’re Grandma and I’m the milkman. But instead of giving you agreement,  I say, “What are you nutty? This is the 21st Century. We don’t have milkmen.”

When we care for the success of someone else, we can create a scene that both the folks on stage and those in the audience can enjoy. However, when we shut someone down, the scene gets awkward, the audience doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and so on.

I have noticed that this goes on in daily conversation as well, but I was never able to put a name to it. Has there ever been a time when you came up with what you thought was a really great idea and you shared it with someone else, and immediately they shut you down? “That’s stupid.” “That will never work.” “Maybe you should just stop talking.”

There are several things wrong with this exchange. First, it makes you feel like crap. I know that I do. I become quiet and decide that I don’t have anything worthwhile to offer.

Additionally, it can stifle the idea process. Some of the greatest ideas come in the form of collaboration. Someone starts out with a spark. Then another builds on it. Then we go back and forth and before we know it, we have a multi-million-dollar offering and neither of us can remember who came up with the idea in the first place.

My aunt and I had an exchange like this just today. I first went into a store to find an outfit, picked out about twelve things to try on, and walked out with nothing. When I went to pick up my aunt afterwards at her nail appointment, she asked me what I got to wear. I told her nothing. She said that wouldn’t do. So we went back to the store, and with fresh eyes and some collaboration, I walked out of there with four tops!

That story may say nothing except that maybe I’m not as up on fashion as I think I am. However, it is here and serves a purpose. Initially, when my aunt pointed out the first couple of pieces, I did not think they were for me. But I said I was open to them, and by the third and four choices, we came up with some great combinations. I got tons of compliments at the party–though, they might have just been being nice.

Regardless, those who are most liked are the ones who make others feel good. Some of my favorite people excel at this. There’s no harm in an idea or being unique, and people love being recognized and appreciated for their ideas. So yes, I may agree at times when I really don’t, and I usually walk out with a greater idea than what we started with. The crazy ones shake the world.


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