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Improv Principle: Yes, And... Liberating Mindset

“No” is the #1 creativity killer. Try a "Yes, and..." approach instead – build on others' ideas rather than shut them down.

By Gustavo Razzetti

January 29, 2019

An exercise to unblock creativity by building on everyone’s ideas

Shift from “No” to a “Yes, And… mindset”

Our brains are wired to reject what we can’t understand or appreciate. Saying “No” is the #1 creativity killer–it sucks the passion out of any brainstorm. The “Yes, and…” improv principle helps teams build on other people’s ideas– we accept any thought without judging. Ideas are considered stepping stones, not judged as final products. 

What is a "Yes, and..." Approach?

The mindset that participants bring to a brainstorm shapes the creative outcome.

Coach this exercise before kicking-off a brainstorm session. The purpose is to instill an improv mentality–to build on someone else’s ideas, rather than to judge or criticize what people say. 

People will experiment with saying “no” and then “yes, and…” to realize how their initial reaction can either trigger silence or more ideas. 

How to Facilitate this Exercise?

Planning a team party is an effective way to bring the ‘Yes, and’ spirit to life. It builds right mindset before you kick-off a brainstorm — but also a great reminder of the power of true collaboration.

Break out your team into smaller groups of 4–6 people. The challenge: plan a party to celebrate last quarter’s achievements.

Sounds simple, right? Though every round has a trick.

Round 1: Everyone shares an idea (one-at-a-time). Every time one person shares an idea, someone else replies: “No, what we need to do is…” and explains his idea.

Round 2: Same approach. This time, the response is “Yes, but…” The person presents an objection and then shares his/her idea.

Round 3: Finally, you bring up the “Yes, and…” approach. People need to build on other’s ideas by replying “yes, and we can also…”

You don’t need to put this into practice to realize what happens.

The ‘No’ immediately drains the energy out of a team. People feel that is pointless; the brainstorm will get nowhere — everyone is focused on killing other’s ideas by pushing their own.

The ‘Yes, but’ has the same effect, but is more irritating. People pretend to be polite but are actually dismissing ideas in a politically correct fashion. It feels everyone is patronizing the rest.

A team that plays together stays together. That’s the biggest benefit of a ‘Yes, and’ mindset.

When you apply a ‘Yes, and’ approach only good things can happen. From animals — both stuffed and real — live bands, Eskimos, exotic places, you name it; the party turns into a fun and wild one.

Unfortunately, in most companies, people are wired to say ‘No’ to new ideas. 

Additional Reading

Shift Your Mindset from Limiting to Liberating

The 7 Biggest Creativity Killers

Why Culture Design?

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