Lawyers, don’t panic – this isn’t as scary as it sounds.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop on leadership that encouraged some out-of-the-box thinking – the session integrated improv techniques into various business applications. I hate anything that feels like an icebreaker (I prefer routine and structure), so I was already pre-programmed to prefer sitting in a conference room listening to a speaker than to engage in improv.

But I was pleasantly surprised – and while some of the tips seemed silly at first (or may not work for every situation), I could definitely see the benefits of incorporating them.

Two of my favorites were “Yes, and…” and applauding all ideas. 

Yes, and…

This is the one I think we were all most familiar with when we started – the idea that when having a conversation, you respond to everything the other person says with “yes, and…” adding your ideas at the end. The idea here is to keep the conversation flowing and moving. Our facilitator likened it to improv, saying that if someone got up on stage and said to their stage partner, “I’m your mom!” and the stage partner said, “No, you’re not, you’re my accountant,” the bit would die there. Similarly, if they just said “yes.”

But when you say “Yes, and…” you’re agreeing with the other person and trying to find ways to make that work.  Of course, it’s not going to work in every situation. But when many of us come to discussions/meetings with our own pre-determined agendas and ideas in mind, or the belief that whatever someone else suggests will automatically not work and we’re prepared to play devil’s advocate to explain why, the goals and purpose of the conversation die right there. (Does that sound familiar?)

Instead, if we say “yes, and…” we’re inviting more conversation around a subject.  The end result may be that not every idea is workable or helpful. But you have FAR more ideas than when you started.  This can be an excellent brainstorming tool, and many companies will hold brainstorming meetings where everyone is required to use the “yes, and…” tool.

I know, it sounds a bit silly still – but we used it ourselves. We paired off and came up with a subject, which we then talked about using “yes, and…” We found that we were able to keep the conversation going, and stay more open minded, than if we’d had a regular conversation about the same topic.  It may be worth a try the next time you need a creative solution!

Since experimenting with this in this session, I’ve incorporated this more into my own professional life, identifying ways to embrace ideas instead of poking holes in them. Not every idea will work, but when I’m open to what someone suggests, the idea itself may end up being a successful one, or the discussion may bring us to a solution or project that we wouldn’t have previously identified.

Applauding all ideas

Now this will REALLY require some out of the box thinking, but the idea here is that when brainstorming, every suggestion is met with applause and cheering. Seriously.

It sounds CRAZY, and maybe it is. But it really works. We were tasked with identifying a product and coming up with a promotional campaign for it. Every suggestion that anyone made was to be met with applause and cheering from the entire group, no matter how silly it was.

Some people in the group are natural born leaders, and great at thinking on their feet – they were tossing out great suggestions and getting cheers. Others were more thoughtful about it, and were either encouraged by the facilitator to participate, or threw out ideas a bit later in the process. All of their suggestions were also met with cheers.

It’s so rare (unfortunately) to get positive reinforcement for our ideas, that many times, if you make a suggestion that is met with silence or is shot down, it makes it less likely you’ll share your next suggestion.  The cheering really helped to encourage everyone to share, and to keep sharing. Again, not every idea is going to be gold, but our facilitators (Business Improvisations) explained that it’s important to separate the editing process from the idea generation process – you can always go back later and identify why an idea may not work, or isn’t the best, but you want to be starting from a place of having lots of ideas, from the zany and crazy ones right through to the brilliant and excellent ones.

You never know whether what someone else says will inspire someone to come up with a brilliant idea. And if we’re shooting down ideas regularly, you may never get to hear that brilliance (and that person may never even be inspired). So while it may not be entirely practical to hold meetings where everyone is cheering every few moments, it’s a) worth a try! and b) worth finding some adaptation (maybe just saying “Great!” every time someone shares) so that you can raise the level of your brainstorming process.

Take a look too at this resource from Business Improvisations – and maybe even think about getting them out to your firms. Even if you don’t use all (or any) of their ideas, the workshop is a fabulous way to break out of your rut and open your mind to new ways of thinking (and you KNOW I’m always in favor of that!).