Always Start With, “Yes, And…”

I remember vividly the meetings with business advisors at the start of my journey, and how they felt obliged to point out all of the ways my ideas would fail. “Yes, and…” is a much better philosophy if our goal is to help folks.

In 2014, I did a New York and Toronto trip, and during it took in some trips to UCB and Second City — two renowned improv clubs. It’s safe to call improv comedy Marmite-like, but I’ve long been a fan of the art form and how it completely goes against the grain of remembering your lines and knowing how everything will play out from the start.

Improv comedy has a simple premise, you start as a group of comedians or actors on a stage without any plans for what you’ll perform in the next hour. Then, using suggestions from the audience or other mechanisms, you create an elaborate tale which, ideally, concludes satisfactorily, entertains people along the way, and includes plenty of call-backs and character consistency throughout.

The first rule of improv is, “Yes, and…” This simple premise is that whenever your cast introduce something new, you build upon it.

As a very simple rule, “Yes, and…” has massive potential to be further embraced by the business world.

“Yes, and…” means that when someone introduces something new to the story, instead of responding with “no” or challenging the idea, you layer on more detail. This opens doors fast, and creates more avenues for the story to expand.

For example, if I started with, “Did you walk to work today?” and you respond, “Yes, and it was raining,” then it opens up the story more than if you said, “No, I drove.” If you then layered on, “Yes, and the buses weren’t running so I had to roller-skate,” then it opens up even more possibility.

There are two key elements to “Yes, and…”. The yes is a positive step, and the and adds more detail and avenues.

Coworking Europe 2016

In Brussels in 2016, Sam Abrams and Alex Hillman delivered a really great workshop at Coworking Europe on “Yes, and…” which really helped to hammer home how awkward it is to answer with “yes… but” or a flat “no”.

It really felt amazing to know that this philosophy is working for other spaces and communities across the world.

When talking to people about ideas, there are myriad, complex reasons as to why someone is asking for your advice. This can range from genuinely seeking specific advice, looking for introductions, gaining insight or, very often, asking for permission.

The patronising approach of pointing out all of the reasons why someone’s idea will fail may seem like a socially responsible way to prevent someone from making a lot of mistakes, but it more frequently prevents them from doing anything.

Adversity is something I’ll write more about in future posts, but it is a necessary experience when it comes to developing ourselves, our character, mindset and our skillsets.

When advising someone on starting a business, my default position is, “Yes, and…” unless it is clear that this person is putting themselves at risk or creating something the world doesn’t need.

Entrepreneurs overthink everything instinctively. They rarely need pointing out all of the risk and danger — they know this and think about it all the time.

And if you still think this is too optimistic, that is your evidence that there are plenty of other folks out there who will tell them why it won’t work.

It is not the job of a business adviser to test their commitment, or convince them not to start.

We need to start trusting people more with their personal decision making, and by taking such a negative approach, we do more damage than good.

I describe it as like being in a dark room. The founder just needs to know where the doors are, and we kick some of them open. We don’t push them through, we don’t hold hands, and we don’t tell them which doors to take, we just show where the opportunity is.

The old model takes more of an approach of slamming shut doors that are only slightly ajar.

Starting something, even if it eventually fails, should still be a positive and beneficial experience for the entrepreneur. I’ll write more about this in the future.

Entrepreneurs very rarely know how everything will play out when they start working on a challenge or mission. Being comfortable with improvisation and adaptation is a very useful skillset and mindset to develop. “Yes, and…” is one important tool in this kit.

Next time you’re in the privileged position of having someone ask for your advice on an idea, or starting a business, think about how you could build potential as opposed to destroying it.

By focusing on “Yes, and…” we can help broaden perspectives for people and help them to see more rather than less.

Thanks to everyone who has emailed in this last week — especially to those who’ve given examples of where it applies in your world and where you’ve implemented lessons. If you’re finding the posts interesting, please do share across your socials to help connect with more folks.

In Brussels in 2016, Sam Abrams and Alex Hillman delivered a really great workshop at Coworking Europe on “Yes, and…” which really helped to hammer home how awkward it is to answer with “yes… but” or a flat “no”.

It really felt amazing to know that this philosophy is working for other spaces and communities across the world.

When talking to people about ideas, there are myriad, complex reasons as to why someone is asking for your advice. This can range from genuinely seeking specific advice, looking for introductions, gaining insight or, very often, asking for permission.

The patronising approach of pointing out all of the reasons why someone’s idea will fail may seem like a socially responsible way to prevent someone from making a lot of mistakes, but it more frequently prevents them from doing anything.

Adversity is something I’ll write more about in future posts, but it is a necessary experience when it comes to developing ourselves, our character, mindset and our skillsets.

When advising someone on starting a business, my default position is, “Yes, and…” unless it is clear that this person is putting themselves at risk or creating something the world doesn’t need.

Entrepreneurs overthink everything instinctively. They rarely need pointing out all of the risk and danger — they know this and think about it all the time.

And if you still think this is too optimistic, that is your evidence that there are plenty of other folks out there who will tell them why it won’t work.

It is not the job of a business adviser to test their commitment, or convince them not to start.

We need to start trusting people more with their personal decision making, and by taking such a negative approach, we do more damage than good.

I describe it as like being in a dark room. The founder just needs to know where the doors are, and we kick some of them open. We don’t push them through, we don’t hold hands, and we don’t tell them which doors to take, we just show where the opportunity is.

The old model takes more of an approach of slamming shut doors that are only slightly ajar.

Starting something, even if it eventually fails, should still be a positive and beneficial experience for the entrepreneur. I’ll write more about this in the future.

Entrepreneurs very rarely know how everything will play out when they start working on a challenge or mission. Being comfortable with improvisation and adaptation is a very useful skillset and mindset to develop. “Yes, and…” is one important tool in this kit.

Next time you’re in the privileged position of having someone ask for your advice on an idea, or starting a business, think about how you could build potential as opposed to destroying it.

By focusing on “Yes, and…” we can help broaden perspectives for people and help them to see more rather than less.

Thanks to everyone who has emailed in this last week — especially to those who’ve given examples of where it applies in your world and where you’ve implemented lessons. If you’re finding the posts interesting, please do share across your socials to help connect with more folks.

In Brussels in 2016, Sam Abrams and Alex Hillman delivered a really great workshop at Coworking Europe on “Yes, and…” which really helped to hammer home how awkward it is to answer with “yes… but” or a flat “no”.

It really felt amazing to know that this philosophy is working for other spaces and communities across the world.

When talking to people about ideas, there are myriad, complex reasons as to why someone is asking for your advice. This can range from genuinely seeking specific advice, looking for introductions, gaining insight or, very often, asking for permission.

The patronising approach of pointing out all of the reasons why someone’s idea will fail may seem like a socially responsible way to prevent someone from making a lot of mistakes, but it more frequently prevents them from doing anything.

Adversity is something I’ll write more about in future posts, but it is a necessary experience when it comes to developing ourselves, our character, mindset and our skillsets.

When advising someone on starting a business, my default position is, “Yes, and…” unless it is clear that this person is putting themselves at risk or creating something the world doesn’t need.

Entrepreneurs overthink everything instinctively. They rarely need pointing out all of the risk and danger — they know this and think about it all the time.

And if you still think this is too optimistic, that is your evidence that there are plenty of other folks out there who will tell them why it won’t work.

It is not the job of a business adviser to test their commitment, or convince them not to start.

We need to start trusting people more with their personal decision making, and by taking such a negative approach, we do more damage than good.

I describe it as like being in a dark room. The founder just needs to know where the doors are, and we kick some of them open. We don’t push them through, we don’t hold hands, and we don’t tell them which doors to take, we just show where the opportunity is.

The old model takes more of an approach of slamming shut doors that are only slightly ajar.

Starting something, even if it eventually fails, should still be a positive and beneficial experience for the entrepreneur. I’ll write more about this in the future.

Entrepreneurs very rarely know how everything will play out when they start working on a challenge or mission. Being comfortable with improvisation and adaptation is a very useful skillset and mindset to develop. “Yes, and…” is one important tool in this kit.

Next time you’re in the privileged position of having someone ask for your advice on an idea, or starting a business, think about how you could build potential as opposed to destroying it.

By focusing on “Yes, and…” we can help broaden perspectives for people and help them to see more rather than less.

Thanks to everyone who has emailed in this last week — especially to those who’ve given examples of where it applies in your world and where you’ve implemented lessons. If you’re finding the posts interesting, please do share across your socials to help connect with more folks.

Tweet me, and remember it costs nothing to give a post a couple of claps!

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store