Yes, and...WHAT?

That  "Yes, and" rule.... Are you a lifelong "yes, and" evangelist?  A born again one? A sceptic? An analytic parser of nuance? A tired old-timer over the whole topic?

Regardless, I humbly suggest you may be missing something.

Let me catch up the uninitiated: The now ubiquitously heralded improv principle, taught and embraced by organizations worldwide, goes like this:


  • Everything  - in a scene, in a conversation, in a problem-solving session - EVERYTHING is an "offer".
  • As improvisers, it our obligation to see and hear the offers that our partner makes and build with them. (The "yes" means I see and hear and accept the existence the offers. The "and" means I use those offers and add some of my own.)
  • The "yes, and" rule is the foundation of all improv. It allows us to develop scenes and song and stories collaboratively, on-the-spot, with whatever happens, rather than freezing, judging, debating or hedging - activities that would scuttle any creative endeavor.
  • In the world of personal and organizational effectiveness (a.k.a. Applied Improv), the "yes, and" rule enables better brainstorming and innovation, more respectful, trusting and satisfying relationships, clearer communication and problem-solving, and deeper understanding and connection.

"Yes, and" is a profoundly powerful approach to interactions on and off stage. Some people fall deeply in love with "yes, and" right away. Others reject it as simplistic or cloying or even as a dangerous path to "group think". Improvisers parse the difference between a character saying 'no' and the actor saying 'no'. We have long conversations about when and where and how "yes, and" is useful - what we get and what we risk when we apply it.

Here's what we often miss:

We are ALWAYS "yes, and-ing" SOMETHING.

In any given moment there are infinitely more offers than we can receive, let alone accept. With every choice we focus on and build with some and ignore and block others. For example:

  • When I say "no" to a colleague's suggestion, I may feel I am "yes, and-ing" budget limitations, or my own idea, or Joe's idea, or my understanding of what's physically possible.
  • When I say "no" to more cake, I am perhaps "yes, and-ing" health.
  • By choosing to fight back when I feel insulted, I may be "yes, and-ing" my sense of justice or self-respect. Alternatively, by ignoring an insult,  I may be recognizing and "yes, and-ing" someone else's pain or insecurity.
  • By saying "no" to an exciting and lucrative professional opportunity, I am able to say "yes" to being present for my daughter's first day of school.

So, really, the question is not ARE we "yes, and-ing" but WHAT are we yes-anding?
To maximize it's potential value to you, revisit "Yes, and..." Ask yourself:

  • What offers AM I yes,
  • What is that getting me?
  • What might it be costing me?
  • What kinds of offers may I be missing because I'm focusing on other kinds? (e.g. By focusing on the content of what someone says too specifically, we may miss an underlying emotional offer or need.)
  • Are the things I'm noticing and "yes, and-ing" aligned with my intentions and values?
  • What other kinds of offers could I look for that would be valuable?
  • Where might a "no" be a "yes, and" of some higher value or goal?

When we shift the conversation from IF we accept and build with offers to WHAT we are going to accept and build with, we open up powerful new vistas of exploration.