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Affirm & Build or Yes And!


Lele Mason – Facilitator

When I hear affirm and build upon what works, I think of phrases like : “Don’t reinvent the wheel “ ; “ Work smart-not hard”; and “Yes AND”.  Of these three the latter has become an intricate philosophy to my everyday life. However, for someone who has never experience the power of “Yes AND” you may question its importance.

So what is “YES AND” and what does it have to do with affirming and building upon what works?  Well- Thanks for asking! Let’s break them down shall we.

The Yes in “YES AND” is the absolute acknowledgement of a situation, problem, goal, objective, idea, or opportunity. The YES allows you, your team, ensemble, cast, or group to approach a topic without limitations.

As an improviser/instructor “Yes AND” serves as a lit candle in a very dim space.

Each time I hit the stage to improvise I have absolutely no clue what will happen. I am acting without a script in front of a semi-skeptical audience who may be wrestling with the idea that the scenes we create are not 100% constructed on stage. Knowing that the audience may not be in total belief it is my job to accept the challenge and rise to the occasion. I YES their skepticism, I YES their desire to see a comedic show, and I YES my own pre-show jitters of “what ifs”( a topic for another day) by boldly approaching the audience and getting a suggestion.

  • Suggestion?
  • YES a suggestion. Why a suggestion, and a suggestion of what?  Getting a suggestion is the opportunity for both the audience and the improviser to say YES. For example we may ask the audience for a suggestion of a location that could fit on stage like an office, classroom, or a ______? The blank would be something that the audience shouts out. This is done so it affirms to the audience that we are definitely making this up as we go and we are doing so based off of their suggestion. But did they say YES-  they said yes to us by acknowledging our request for a suggestion and we said yes to them by accepting their suggestion and generating scenes based on such.
  • The And in YES AND is what brings any situation, problem, goal, objective, idea, or opportunity to life. The AND creates a space for collaboration, creativity, building, and trial and error. Or in other words The AND allows you to build on what works.

If we go back to the stage example and getting a suggestion from the audience. Let’s say the suggestion was a coffee shop. The show is an hour long and the very first scene we did was about employees who work in a coffee shop. The scene proves to be hilarious but an entire show about working in a coffee shop may eventually wane in humor and board the mundane train.

So how do we keep the show alive, how do we keep the audience on board while continuously implementing their suggestion? In that first scene we had to do a lot of Yes Anding and paying attention to what resonated with the audience. Did they like the way certain characters interacted with one another, how did they respond to certain conversations between characters, what grabbed their attention? The sooner we can make a choice as to what the audience needs the easier it becomes for us to recognize what works and keep building from there.

The next time you find yourself faced with the unknown YES AND it. Acknowledge what you don’t know, brainstorm some ideas, acknowledge what you do know/ can do and try it out. 

YES AND sounds great for improvisers but how does that relate to my work or everyday life? Thanks for asking!

As I stated earlier YES AND is a philosophy.  At work when you are faced with a difficult task, uncomfortable situation, stalled progress, or what seems to be an unreachable goal; how do you handle it? Do you avoid it? Do you hope someone else will handle it? Do you get frustrated? Are you minimally productive until these things are complete? Or do you automatically go in to “O.K. how can we deal with this” mode. If the last answer is you then you are YES AND type of person.  You have acknowledged that something needs to be done and are open to all ideas from you or your team in order to find what works.  You will throw the metaphoric spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. And if need be save the other ideas for later.

As a facilitator we always encourage participants to embrace the uncomfortable. I even say smile when it gets difficult. Because the magic that is about to come from this situation is going to serve as heroic lore for task to come. The conversation will go from “how are we going to do this” to “ we can handle this”.

The next time you find yourself faced with the unknown YES AND it. Acknowledge what you don’t know, brainstorm some ideas, acknowledge what you do know/ can do and try it out. Affirm and build on what works!

There's more than one way to collaborate,  why improv,  Yes And


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