The fundamental principle of improvisation is “yes, and.” No matter what your scene partner says or does, you accept it and build on it. If she says, “Glorious day to be on a boat,” you might say, “It sure is. I hope we make it to China before sundown!” Now we know we’re on a boat, it’s a nice day, and we’re headed to China.
What would happen if, instead of accepting the premise of the first statement, you said, “What do you mean, boat? We’re on a spaceship!” The scene comes to a screeching halt, we’re back to square one, and we’ve alienated the audience, who thought we were on a boat.
This dynamic shows up in our lives every day. In meetings, it can feel like the agenda item is “shoot down ideas”. See if any of this sounds familiar: “Here’s why that won’t work, “ “We tried that already,” “That plan doesn’t fit with what we rolled out last quarter.” Or the ever-popular: “Yes, we could do that, but…”
When we practice “yes, and,” it doesn’t mean we implement every suggestion that comes down the pike. It means we listen to the end, we suspend our own agenda, and we act as if that idea will work when we discuss it. This “acting as if” is what opens up innovation and solves problems. When we’re stuck in “here’s why it won’t work,” it’s impossible to see beyond what we have known in the past. “Yes, and” provides a window into the future.