The most important concept in improv based training is “yes, and.” We contrast it with “yes, but.” The point is that “yes, and” invites progress. And while saying “yes” is good, implying acceptance of your conversational partners idea, “Yes, and” not only accepts the idea, it builds on it. This is the soul of creativity and teamwork.
Yesterday while re-reading Kat Koppett’s Training to Imagine, I came upon a bit of wisdom that enhances the notion of “yes, and.” She noted that the word “but” is a verbal eraser. It negates whatever comes before it. Think about it.
- I don’t want to change the subject, but …
- I’m not racist, but …
- I’m not one to criticize, but…
- I like your idea, but …
- Sorry, but
In every case, the “but” completely negates the previous statement. Did you ever hear anyone say, “I don’t want to change the subject, but …” when they didn’t change the subject?
“I’m not racist, but…” is always followed by a racist comment; “I’m not one to criticize, but” is always followed by criticism; “I like your idea, but” is always followed by rejection of the idea; and, no one who is truly sorry begins a statement with “sorry, but.” (I’m tempted to say that anyone who says, “Sorry, but,” is a sorry butt.)
In a sense, saying “but” is an easier way to say “no.” If a coworker comes to you and says, “We should do something to improve morale.” And you say, “Yes, but we can’t afford the time.” You have in effect said “no.”
For years I have been telling students in my management classes that the world can be divided into two classes of people: People who try to find a way to say “yes,” and people who try to say “no.” Katt Koppett, points out that the “yes people” find adventure, and the “no” people find security. I’m sure that is true. There is danger in trying new things, and there is security in the predicable. And while security seems, well secure, the environment is changing rapidly, and those who resist change are likely to find the status quo they cling to so stubbornly will soon be irrelevant.
So if saying “no” has the advantage of security and the danger of obsolescence, what are the advantages and danger of saying “yes?”
Of course the advantage is adventure. Those who say “yes” will find adventure. They will grow, they will be creative. The downside is the danger of failure. But is failure something to be feared? In improv based training we respond with a resounding “no.” We celebrate failure, because it is the byproduct of trying. If we never fail it will be because we never tried.
In almost every training we do at laugh2learn the opportunity arises to celebrate failure. Usually it’s when someone says, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand,” or something similar. At that point we interrupt whatever we are doing to talk just a bit about failure and why it is so destructive to be ashamed of it. If you haven’t failed, you’re not trying enough new things.
We then get into a circle and I invite participants to step forward and announce their failures and we all cheer. I am amazed that almost always at least two-thirds of the participants want to announce a failure. At a recent training at an academic institution where students and faculty were participating together, a professor stepped forward and announced that he had submitted many articles that were never published. We all cheered, and I think the students really appreciated hearing of a professor’s failure.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Hear what Michael Jordan had to say about failure:
”I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
So, be bold. Take a risk. Take the shot. Sometimes you will fail. Celebrate that. It means you were trying.
Accept your coworker’s suggestion. Say “yes, and …” Will you find adventure and progress? Yes! Will you sometimes fail? Yes! Will the balance be a fuller, more productive life? Yes!
No buts about it.