Improv Exercise: Yes And Story

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Improv Exercise:  Yes And Story

The principle of Yes And is the basis of all collaborative teamwork and group creativity. It is a fun exercise and allows team members to experience each other in a light, creative way. Players sit In a circle and build a story one sentence at a time.  Each sentence must begin with "Yes, And..."  Each sentence must refer to one statement from the previous sentence.  For example, if I say "Once upon a time there was a blue rhinoceros", then the next person might say "Yes, and the blue rhinoceros liked to drink tea (or wore reading glasses, or whatever)”.  And the person after that could say something like "Yes, and that tea contained persimmons" and so on.  Since you don't know what the person ahead of you will say, you can't plan ahead.  If someone forgets to start their sentence with "Yes, and..." then the group functions as a friendly human buzzer, saying "Buzzzz"  The person then just tries again this time beginning his/her sentence with "Yes, and..."  At any time, a participant has the choice to say “pass” if they get too stuck.

Because this is an exercise on accepting offers and building on them, these behaviors are to be avoided. It is best to alert the group to these No Nos up front:

Do not argue with the what was just added to the story. Example: "Yes, and it wasn't really a blue rhinoceros, it was a green fly."  Arguers may actually say “Yes, And…” but they do not add, but instead block or deny the previous story addition. The group should be encouraged to Buzz an arguer to encourage them to try again with a true Yes, And…. Statement.

Do not question what was just added to the story:  "Yes, and what kind of blue rhinoceros was it?". Questioning in this game is really a kind of argument because the action stops cold and nothing is added.   The moderator should encourage people to say the first thing on their minds, the sillier the better.  
Do not hesitate. The moderator should encourage people not to hesitate by trying to find the perfect thing to say.  Jump in by saying Yes and... then repeat an element and let the first thing that comes to mind come out to add to the story.
The moderator begins the story by saying "Once upon a time there was a (talking truck tire, or whatever). For best results, stay in the imaginary realm, not the business realm. The moderator can also assist by pointing at who is next and by encouraging people to speak up so others can hear.  The moderator ends the story by saying "The End."
The steps:

1.  Moderator organizes students into seated circle of 5-15 people.

2.  Moderator explains the rules.  

3.  Moderator begins the story with "Once upon a time there was a (something imaginary)."

4)  Each participant contributes a "Yes, and...(something)" sentence to the story

5)  Keep going around until the story finds a natural end.

6)  Moderator ends the story by saying "The End." and encouraging applause.

7)  Moderator asks players what they noticed.  What was hard?  What was easy?  What worked?  What didn't?

8)  Moderator draws learning conclusions and ties the game back to the workplace.

Today's business creativity is not individual creativity where the brilliant superstar brings their amazing vision down from the mountain.  Today's creativity is group creativity.  Yes And teaches a mindset that dramatically improves group creativity.  Saying yes to the ideas of others, instead of no, and then building on those ideas, is more productive than random brainstorming.  Arguing and questioning doesn't move ideation forward.  Saying “Yes, and" does.  The game forces you to stay present to the ideas of others and not think ahead or attempt to control things or appear smart.  It teaches you that creativity can mean improving the ideas of others.  And it dramatically demonstrates that group creativity can outperform individual creativity in terms of pushing the boundaries.  The moderator can sum up by saying "I guarantee you that no one individual in this room could have come up with this story. (Point out some of the wilder story elements.) Yes And is a great warm-up exercise for brainstorming or visioning meetings.  It can also be used as a diagnostic tool to identify dominant types, rebels, show-offs, arguers, shy mousy non-contributors, etc.
Courtesy of Barry Callen, Corprov – Improv Training for Corporations 608-347-8396

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