Part of being successful is a willingness to be creative, to see lots of possibilities even when your resources are limited. But creativity doesn't always happen in a steady flow, and sometimes it can seem like we're suffering from serious innovation block. If you hit this kind of hurdle, the solution might come from a place worlds away from the cubicle--the theater.

The "yes, and" technique

In the theater, actors and actresses use the "yes, and" improvisation method. Erika Troia, brand naming strategist at PS212, is also an improvisation student. She says that the default mentality behind the "yes, and" technique is to move forward, not backward. Your goal is to take action and go somewhere--anywhere. So instead of breaking character and dismissing what's unfolding as nonsense or unworkable, you accept it and add your contribution to the scene.

"The underlying principle behind the 'yes, and' mentality means every idea is valid and expandable," says Troia. "In the business of naming brands, products and companies, this is especially important, as it allows for the opportunity to see what could work, as opposed to narrowly focusing on what couldn't work."

Now, this isn't to say that all of what comes out of your mind through "yes, and" miraculously will yield a bazillion customers and oodles of sales. Some of the concepts you entertain will hit the chopping block eventually. But the benefit is that you stop yourself from automatically saying no right out of the gate and, therefore, take routes you otherwise might not have. You end up looking at the positive side of the possibility and get a bigger-picture understanding of just how viable a concept is overall.

Structure and improvisation--opposites, but not necessarily enemies

Much of business thrives on routine and standards. So in a typical office, it's understandable that the "yes, and" technique would be met with a little--or even a lot of--resistance.

"A drawback for many would be the need to unlearn the rigid techniques that are typically applied to certain business environments," says Troia. "In rare cases, to some of the people in the room--whether it is a client or colleague--applying improve techniques could come across as the antithesis of planning and strategy."

So then what can you do to make yourself and your team more comfortable with "yes, and" so it becomes a regular, effective habit?

The first key Troia recommends is just to take an improvisation comedy class. The class provides a safe space for you to practice expanding on any concept with support of others. None of what you do in the class has any connection to you company, so there's no pressure of particular projects or funds being on the line. As bonuses, you get to figure out a little more about yourself through the way you improv, and you can laugh, be silly and get some much-needed stress relief. If there aren't classes near you, or if cost is an issue, you still can practice with family members or good friends.

Troia also says it's important to encourage the technique among your internal teams. That way, team members get more comfortable with following ideas to wherever their imagination might take them. They learn they won't be reprimanded for trying, and so they try (what a concept, right?). Verbalizing that you're in favor of the method is great and necessary, but nothing is going to beat your own modeling. Once you're comfortable with the technique, demonstrate it yourself to the people around you as often as it is appropriate.

By the time most of us get into business, become bosses or start companies, we've become masters of rejection. We judge ourselves, our ideas and others excessively harshly because we've learned to worry about what others think, and we say no more than we say yes as a way to mitigate all kinds of perceived risk. But if you want to win, you at least have to explore. To say, "What if..?" So improvise as much as you can. Don't just aim to break the rules now and then. Aim to pause and imagine the world that manifests when there are no rules in the first place.

Published on: Aug 14, 2018
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