In improvised theatre, there is a technique which helps performers build on each others’ ideas.

It is called “Yes, and…”.

In many everyday situations, when people are discussing new ideas, the first response of someone else hearing a new idea is why it will not work.

An exchange between two people might happen like this:

Person 1 “I have a new idea. It is a sandwich shop where you bring your own ingredients, so you know what goes into your food

Person 2 “Yes, but that won’t work because people want the convenience of other people preparing everything”

Person 1 “Oh. Ok. Then it could be a sandwich shop where people can tell me which organic ingredients they want to order in advance, so they are sure it is always organic and fresh”

Person 2 “Yes, but organic food is always more expensive, so your profit margins won’t be high enough to sustain the business”

Person 1 (silently regrets starting the conversation…)

As you can see, it is normal to respond to an idea with a “but” to signal why it would not work.

While this may help when it comes to finding problems with ideas, it serves to stop the flow of ideas very quickly.

It is very start-stop.

Each idea is stopped immediately, which results in no flow out progress as the interaction always needs to go back to the beginning.

In improv performances, the players need to help each other develop something.

So they employ a technique where no matter what the first person says, the second person will build on it by saying “yes”, then adding a further idea to it with “and…”.

Here is an example of how the previous discussion could have gone differently:

Person 1 “I have a new idea. It is a sandwich shop where you bring your own ingredients, so you know what goes into your food”

Person 2 “Yes, and we could serve it in recycled newspapers to reduce waste”

Person 1 “Yes, and we could employ People from disadvantaged backgrounds and train them to gain new skills in the service industry”

Person 2 “Yes, and we could start a franchise so that thousands of more bring-your-own-stuffing sandwich shops could train people around the world…”

As you can see, the simple act of agreeing with the previous person and building on what they said resulted in an idea which quickly grew into completely new directions.

This is the power of building on other people’s ideas instead of trying to shut them down from the beginning.

This is similar to how divergent thinking happens in an individual mind, only this way you have the power of multiple people finding new connections and building on each other.

As you can probably imagine, this premise is not just useful in improvised theatre. It is just as useful in ideation sessions where a group needs to come up with new ideas.

So the best time you and a group needs to come up with lots of divergent ideas, instead of playing devil’s advocate, try playing “yes, and” instead.

Did you know that scientific evidence shows your creativity decreases over time

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.