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December, 2006

The 'Yes, and . . .' Rule

In improv comedy there's a rule called 'Yes, and . . . '. Basically, anytime anyone says anything you reply by building saying yes.

"Is that a cobra stuck in your teeth?"
"Yes, and blah blah blah blah blah . . ." (I couldn't come up with anything clever.)

You get the point. What that does is continue the energy and flow of the sketch. A 'no' is like derailing a train: Everything you've worked for up to that moment needs to change immediately.

In brainstorms the same rules apply. Even if you think someone's idea is terrible you say yes and build off it rather than shoot it down. That's because big ideas don't hatch, they grow. That small and seemingly ridiculous idea can often grow into something amazing. In a brainstorm every idea gets its time.

It wasn't until recently, however, that I started to realize 'Yes, and . . .' applies almost everywhere.

A few weeks ago I was at Russel's NYC coffee morning and someone sat down for a few minutes who I didn't know. He was only in New York for one more day and asked what he should do. I jumped in to suggest walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, which I think is one of the most amazing experiences NYC has to offer. His immediate response was "no, I'd rather take a cab." BAM! Conversation over.

Now I totally respect that answer, and actually agree in most circumstances. What stood out for me most, though, was how obviously conversation-ending that comment was. A "interesting, but . . . " or "that sounds cool, how about . . ." would have allowed talk to continue. However, at that moment the only other option was to change topics or offer up more free and friendly suggestions with the knowledge that they might be blatantly shot down.

Since then every time someone's come to me with an idea I've tried to build on it instead of shooting it down. It's not like I don't critique things, but I try to do it with a yes instead of a no.

It keeps people disarmed and a little happier. Aint nothing wrong with that.

December 12, 2006
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.