“Yes, And” – Clearing Up Myths and Misconceptions About What it Is and Isn’t

If you are familiar with me and my work, you most likely already know what “yes, and” is. If you are new to my content though, you may be a little uncertain or confused. In this article, I explain what it is (and isn’t) to make sure we are all on the same page.

Person leaning against a question mark - thinking concept.

Image credit: AnatolyM

Have you ever wished for a superpower that could help you navigate through the chaos of life's unpredictability? Imagine having a tool that opens up endless possibilities, encourages collaboration, and boosts creativity. Well, that tool exists, and it's called “yes, and.” In this article, we'll explore just what “yes, and” is — and what it isn’t.

As a professional speaker and author with a 30-year background in improvisational comedy, my entire career has been built around showing people how to apply ideas from improv to their personal and professional lives. One of the main things I talk about is the practical application of “yes, and.” This powerful concept has become a central theme in my most engaging presentations and writings. 

In the world of improv comedy, "yes, and" is a foundational principle that encourages performers to accept and build upon the ideas presented by their fellow actors. It means embracing each contribution with an open mind and adding to the scene, which fosters collaboration, creativity, and humor. 

For example, let's say in an improv scene one actor starts by saying, "I found a mysterious treasure map!" The other actor responds with "yes, and I've got a pirate hat we can wear while searching for the hidden treasure!" This "yes, and" approach allows both actors to collaboratively create a fun and adventurous scene, building on each other's ideas.

You can see how this allows the scene to continue, whereas a “yes, but” response, such as “yes, but we don’t have a shovel,” would more likely shut the scene down, or at least force an awkward redirection.

In improv, “yes, and” is the mindset that lets you work with others, respond to all the wackiness that happens in an improv show, and open up your creativity. Off-stage, I have found (and what I share with my audiences) is that “yes, and” drastically improves communication, allows you to respond quickly to change, and increases innovation.

However, it’s easy to misconstrue what “yes, and” is and isn’t. “Yes, and” is a technique that goes far beyond just nodding and agreeing to whatever is suggested.

“Yes, and” is not: A verbatim tool. It’s possible to use the words, “yes, and” while still retaining a “yes, but” mindset. It’s not about the words, and using it this way won’t yield the results you seek.

“Yes, and” is: A mindset. It is about your approach to other people and to different situations. 

“Yes, and” is not: Full agreement. You can start with “yes, and,” but that doesn’t mean you will ultimately have to run with every crazy idea that comes across your desk. 

“Yes, and” is: A starting point. You can start with “yes, and,” and still add a healthy dose of critical thinking before the execution phase.

“Yes, and” is not: A commitment. Explore, play, and get creative with “yes, and.” And then you can, if you decide it is the best call, still say, “no” or “yes, but.” Just do it later, after you have given all the alternatives a shot using “yes, and.”

“Yes, and” is: An exploration. By saying “yes, and” to ideas you initially disagree with, it opens up your creativity and allows you to explore ideas you never would have otherwise.

“Yes, and” is not: The path to being a “yes man” (or woman). You don’t just blindly agree and go along. You consider and contribute.

“Yes, and” is: A technique to direct and guide. The “and” part of “yes, and” is very important. It is the piece that lets you add your input, dig deeper, and guide conversations and projects.

“Yes, and” is not: A road to overwhelm and burnout. Because “yes, and” is not a commitment, you aren’t automatically committing to everything. That would indeed lead to overwhelm. Instead you use it as a tool to dig deeper and figure out whether you should be doing it at all.

“Yes, and” is: A path to doing more meaningful work. By adopting “yes, and” as a mindset, you start to say “yes, and” to things that really matter to you. This makes it easier to figure out when to say “no” or “yes, but.”

The “yes, and” approach is the cornerstone of my work as a professional speaker and author. It's an improvisational mindset that enhances communication, fosters creativity, and cultivates resilience in the face of change. By embracing “yes, and” we open ourselves to new possibilities and create a culture of collaboration and innovation. Let's embark on this journey together, and unleash the power of “yes, and” in our lives and organizations!

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