S3E15. Leadership in Hyperdrive: Powered by Improv™

Leadership and improv are not opposing forces—in fact, improv is a strategic component of good leadership. It’s been proven by science.

The key principle of improv is these two powerful words: “Yes, and.” These two words have many applications. It’s about pushing forward a conversation and exploring possibilities. It’s the opposite of “no,” “because,” or “yes, but,” because those are negative responses that invoke negative emotions and are used far too often in today’s corporate environment. They close off possibilities, while “Yes, and” opens them.

“Yes, and” is all about empathy. It forces questions or comments that help you better understand an issue the other person is experiencing from their point of view. This shows that you appreciate what other people have to say. How do you feel when you know someone is willing to listen to you instead of shutting you down by saying no?

There are times where “no” or “not now” are appropriate. If someone’s trying to push you into an unethical situation, the response should always be “no”— or something stronger. If you’re leaving a meeting and heading into another way when you get stopped, your answer should be, “This is not a good time for me. Let’s find some time where we can discuss this.” Most conversations within the workplace should explore the “yes, and” principle.

To demonstrate the power of “Yes, and,” you can run the “‘No, because,’ ‘yes, but,’ and ‘yes, and’” exercise.

  • One person pitches an idea to another and that person responds with “No, because…” and gives a reason. The other person then responds with “No, because…” and gives their reaction. Keep this going for 60 seconds.
  • Next, pitch the same idea and this time use “Yes, but…” instead of “No, because…” and do this for 60 seconds.
  • Now, pitch the same idea again and use “Yes, and” and keep the conversation going for 60 seconds.

After this exercise, describe the first confrontation. Then the second. Then the third. You will clearly see the different results.

Brainstorming solutions is another application of the “Yes, and” philosophy. Innovation requires two things: Creativity and effective application of that creativity. Finding the initial solution requires divergent thinking: The process of generating as many creative ideas as possible. To effectively apply creativity, we need to assess the quality of ideas that come through divergent thinking. Bad ideas are just bridges to good ideas, so don’t shut them down before they can be contributed. Keep idea generation and critique separate.

Leadership in Hyperdrive: Powered by Improv™ and the power of “Yes, and,” is a way of adapting to a changing landscape, becoming more creative and collaborative, and showing that you do appreciate the people that you work with by taking time to listen and show empathy to them. It will produce the most significant results for your business today and moving forward.