Changing ‘Yes but’ to ‘Yes and’ – Lessons in Life and Problem Solving from Improv and Brainstorming

One of the great lessons from theatre improvization (improv or impro) games is the rule of ‘Yes and’. All too often in life we ‘yes but’ everything. This is especially true of people who solicit advice for their problems only to block any suggestion. Sometimes people don’t want solutions, they just want to justify their position of not doing anything about their problems. Be clear,  ‘Yes but’  always means ‘NO’.

In improv, the basic principle is ‘yes and’. That is, we accept what’s being offered and add something to it. Offers can be anything from words, expressions, body language, descriptions and so on. The idea is to endow your fellow players with qualities and for them to do the same in return. It’s a collaborative, cooperative process. Together you spontaneously create a scenarios and characters. The humour arises from the surprises and not contriving clever lines. It’s not about making yourself look good it’s about making other people in the scene look good.

When first creating scenes in improv it’s common for beginners to block offers. So for instance, a fellow player may say ‘Would you like this balloon?’ Following the ‘yes and’ rule, you accept the balloon and expand upon it. So it may lead to a scene at the fair or a birthday party. However, if you say ‘No I hate balloons’, then you have blocked the offer and halted the scene. It may be mild panic and ‘no’ was the first thing that came into your head. It may be that you had your own idea of how things should turn out. Either way, it’s easy to see that if everyone blocked offers then no scenes can ever develop. It’s the same with solutions to problems in everyday life.

There are parallels between this basic improv principle and brainstorming for problem solving. It’s a standard practice that there should be no premature censoring of ideas.The first stage is to collect ideas however preposterous they may seem. The second stage is to sift through them. Sometimes an idea that at first seemed unfeasible, or downright silly, may inspire another idea that may lead to a solution. If we dismiss ideas prematurely we may unwittingly be dismissing solutions that spring from these ideas.

The idea of playing a ‘yes and’ game has great applications in real-life especially in times of ‘stuckness’. The crucial question to ask yourself is whether you are being a ‘yes butter’ or a ‘yes ander’? The ‘yes and’ approach will undoubtedly create options you may not have thought of,  especially in times of stress. When stressed we tend to see things in black and white and our responses become focused on survive rather than thrive. It’s amazing how our perceptions change when we relax. In fact it’s  the optimal state for learning and is why I begin my confidence building workshops with relaxation exercises, a few improv games and occasionally balloons! It gets everyone in a receptive ‘solution-focused’ mindset.

So the upshot is that it’s difficult to find solutions for life’s problems from a position of stress where you vision of the possible paths and outcomes may be limited. Solutions will emerge if you relax, adopt a ‘yes and’ approach and don’t prematurely censor possible solutions.

Book Cover: Unlock Your Confidence by Dr Gary Wood

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One thought on “Changing ‘Yes but’ to ‘Yes and’ – Lessons in Life and Problem Solving from Improv and Brainstorming

  1. Pingback: Your 1 million dollar idea isn’t worth 1 million dollars. | SoshiTech

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