Yes And, Happiness, and Leadership

Are you familiar with the concept, from improv theater, of “yes, and…”?  It’s a skill that is useful in leadership and in life.  It helps if you’re on stage giving a presentation to 100 people, and it helps when you are in conversation with one person.  I teach this concept in my communication training and my coaching.
Last week my friend and creativity colleague, Michelle James, wrote of the concept in an article entitled Accepting versus Agreeing.  I loved the distinction she created, and am reprinting a portion of it here, as I believe Acceptance is a fundamental emotion related to Happiness — if I can accept what is, I have greater capacity to experience happiness even when things are not going exactly as I wish they would.
You can read Michelle’s entire newsletter at
Accepting versus Agreeing
One of the core principles of improvisational theater is “Yes And” – which means accepting (the YES) whatever is given (called “offers”) and adding a new piece of information (the AND). It is the cornerstone of improv, and that which help improvisers keep the creativity going in the face of the unknown – with no plans, scripts or strategies.
When I bring Applied Improv principles and practices to organizations, inevitably someone says, “But what if you really DON’T agree with the idea that is offered? Some ideas are simply not good ideas.” A valid case.
There are points I would like to address to that regard: first, the practice of “Yes-Anding” as a creativity technique is used more in the divergence (expanding and generating) part of the creative process. Among a host of other things, yes-anding helps open up the “playing field” for more possibilities and novel connections that otherwise would never have been engaged by the conventional approach of finding out all the reasons an idea will not work. Once you get into the convergence (discerning and focusing) part of the creative process, then you begin to use the “no’s” as appropriate to discern what will and will not work based upon the objectives and the parameters of your focus.
The second point is more subtle. It is the difference between accepting the “offer” and agreeing with it. In improv, it does not matter what you personally think about the offer – or the person offering it – you accept it. You may disagree, but you still accept it and add to it. By doing so, you are not saying, “I love your idea!” Instead, you are engaging in the experiment of taking a seed idea and creating forth something new with it. In doing so, more often than not, an entirely unexpected direction will emerge that is better than anyone could have imagined. With clear intention of purpose, a “bad idea” that is accepted and “anded” can transform into a spot-on relevant innovation just a few “ands” later. To an improviser, all offers are gifts.
Perhaps more significantly, the art of acceptance is profound when practiced with groups and work teams. Accepting what someone is saying creates a feeling of safety. Once the ground of safety is established, members of the group will allow themselves to take more creative risks, to experiment more, to think more expansively…which leads to more novel and workable ideas. You don’t have to agree with someone’s point of view to honor that it is theirs. The payoff: you get more flow from the creative well. In a time when innovation is the big buzzword, the practice of accepting – regardless of agreeing – is one more tool for the creative toolbox.

2 thoughts on “Yes And, Happiness, and Leadership”

  1. Love Yes, And! We spent a whole day on this at one of my Leadership Retreats! The beauty of the “and” is that one must dig deep to find something they did like about what was said (if they think they don’t like the idea) in order to add to it… Fabulous!


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