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Is Yours a “Yes, and” Company Culture?

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Many of you remember the improv show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” You laughed and marveled as Ryan Stiles, Wayne Brady, and Colin Mochrie created hilarious skits from a few words tossed to them by Drew Carey and audience members. Their quick wit depended on the “Yes, and” theory that’s not just basic to improvisation but often used in business to improve a company’s culture. When you improvise you listen then piggyback on another’s idea to create something new. Something quite different from the “Yes, but” philosophy which is like being the devil’s advocate or nay sayer that quickly gets people stuck.

Let’s consider how improv could improve your business. Improvisation thrives on the “Yes, and” philosophy. We validate those interacting with us by building off their comment—not denying or negating it. Imagine a Comedy Sports event as participants take suggestions from the audience like a place—a gas station or a person—a tap dancer, and build a scene like this:

Person #1: I’ll pump the gas while you wash the bugs off the window.
Person #2: Got it! Oh my gosh, check out that little kid tap dancing by the gas pump.
Person #1: She’s good but it’s not a kid. It’s your mother!

And the scene rolls on. If person #2 says, “I don’t see anyone tap dancing,” the improv runs out of gas. Any creative juices are sucked out. The scene comes to a screeching halt.

Business cultures operating on the “Yes, and” philosophy are energized by a climate of listening and building off each other’s ideas. A marketing session might sound like this:

Person #1: I got an idea last night. Let’s add a customer’s comment to this ad in a balloon with the tail at the ad edge so the customer isn’t seen. Just heard.”

Person #2: Hmm. I like that idea. And we could run a whole series of ads varying the comments in the balloon, so it represents different customer types.

Person #2 could have squelched the creativity with a comment like “Yeah, but I’ve seen that done before, and it didn’t work in an ad series.”

Creative ideas continue to flow in a culture where colleagues listen, avoid immediate negative feedback and take time to consider an idea, collaborating until the idea evolves and is worth pursuing or is replaced by a different concept with better results.

When an idea is snuffed out without further consideration, both the idea and its source are denied. Why discourage future free thinking creative episodes with a “Yes, but” philosophy when a “Yes, and” process fosters a culture of openness, acceptance, and collaboration. Everyone wins.

A company with a history of “Yes, but” episodes suffers. Creativity stagnates in an environment where it is safer to just debunk new ideas or play the devil’s advocate too often. A company culture thrives when ideas are heard, considered and, when deemed possible, acted on for a positive result.

In my first career as a junior high English, speech, and drama teacher, my principal gave me the freedom to introduce a speech and drama/improv class to 8th and 9th graders. To prepare, I lost myself in Viola Spolin’s book called Improvisation for the Theater. She was an improv guru and involved in Chicago’s Second City.

Doing improv was freeing for me and my students. We created scenes spontaneously, laughing as we assumed different roles and situations. Often the bell rang signaling end of class and everyone was so engaged we didn’t even hear it. We left the improv environment feeling unencumbered by the stresses of life.

I believe business cultures can do the same. It only takes one person believing in the “Yes, and” philosophy to energize company culture so it becomes a safe, collaborative, freeing environment. Just one person can take the first step by listening to others and adopting the “Yes, and” philosophy. Perseverance is also required to not allow skeptics and those with a “Yes, but” history to stall, even stop progress.

If you need some help growing a “Yes, and” culture in your business, I’m here to help. Call 262.633.7772 or email mbagg@corporate-images.com

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Maureen Bagg, VP of Client Services, Corporate Images

Maureen Bagg is a dedicated business resource to her clients, providing sales and marketing support along with virtual selling training and consultation. Reach her at 262-633-7772 or email mbagg@corporate-images.com.

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