Have you ever watched Saturday Night Live or a rerun of Who's Line is it Anyway? and thought,how do they make comedy look so easy? Well, I hate to break it to you, they’re professionals. That’s how they make it look easy. But, they do employ an important principle of improvisation that enables them to create comedy together. Really, it's a mindset and I believe using it in the office develops respect, teamwork and creativity.
Yes, and…” That’s the important tenet. Simple, right? Just “yes, and….” When two actors are in an improvised scene they work to trust one another and build upon each other’s instincts. Tina Fey does a great job of describing this idea in her book, Bossypants:
"The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you're improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we're improvising and I say, 'Freeze, I have a gun,' and you say, 'That's not a gun. It's your finger. You're pointing your finger at me,' our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, 'Freeze, I have a gun!' and you say, 'The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!' then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun."
So how does this translate into the workplace? You’re not likely to run into someone asking you to believe that their hand is a gun, but you’ve probably worked on a project or planned in event with a co-worker before. Starting that process with an attitude of agreement will allow creativity to flow between partners and show respect for each member of the team. How often have you worked with someone that immediately answers any idea with “no,” “we’ve already tried that,” or “it’s impossible?” These words are toxic to any work place that wants to foster innovation. It takes open and receptive minds to develop new ideas.
"The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with 'I can't believe it's so hot in here,' and you just say, 'Yeah...' we're kind of at a stand-still. But if I say, 'I can't believe it's so hot in here,' and you say, 'What did you expect? We're in hell.' Or if I say, 'I can't believe it's so hot in here,' and you say, 'Yes, this can't be good for the wax figures.' Or if I say, 'I can't believe it's so hot in here,' and you say, 'I told you we shouldn't have crawled into this dog's mouth,' now we're getting somewhere.”
With an attitude of agreement, we can now add to the conversation in a positive, constructive, and forward thinking manner. Each of Fey’s examples heightens the comedy of the situation by accepting and building upon the original idea. Can’t we do this in our offices each and every day? Build an environment where creativity is appreciated and co-workers/managers support and magnify new ideas. Try a little bit of “yes, and…” thinking in your workplace this week – I dare you. Quotes from
Bossypants by Tina Fey (2011).
Sara Strehle Duke is an accomplished director, choreographer, and improvisational actor, in addition to her interest in arts management. Before joining Encore Stage & Studio as Executive Director in 2010, she worked for the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia and Round House Theatre in Bethesda. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the College of William & Mary and an Arlington native.