I once took a class about doing improvisational comedy. I think learning to improvise is a good skill for everyone. It doesn’t have to be comedy, though a laugh never hurts, because the rules of improv acting and comedy are transferable to other roles in life.

One of the basic rules they teach in improv (it’s one of Tina Fey’s rules too) is “Yes, and…” The idea is that a participant should accept what another participant has stated (“yes”) and then expand on that line of thinking (“and”).

I know that this concept has been used in business, education and other organizations as a way to improve the effectiveness of the brainstorming process. It also is a way to foster better communication and it can encourage the sharing of ideas.

The first “Yes” part of the rule encourages you to accept the contributions of others. In improvisation, you are encouraged to agree to a premise and cooperate, rather than shutting down the suggestion which ends the communication.

I didn’t get to do much improv and I didn’t work with some famous group like Second City (they have their own book on improv called Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses No, But Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration. But I remember a session when one person looked out at the crowd and said “Wow, look at that beautiful water and at the waves.” And her partner responded “That’s not water. That’s a guy in the audience waving!” The joke got a laugh, but it also killed the improv.

That’s why in an acting or comedy workshop or in some organizational setting saying “Yes” encourages people to listen and be receptive to others’ ideas.

Of course, a judgment has its place in brainstorming, but later in the process.

When we get to the “and” part we add new information into the narrative. Accept and then take it further.

The opposite of saying yes is blocking. One kind of blocking is asking questions. A question forces your partners to do the work of adding information. In a meeting, asking questions can slow down brainstorming. Questions do not move things forward.

I think about a line in the film Crimes and Misdemeanors about defining comedy “If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it’s not funny.” You don’t want to break a scene.

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