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The first rule of improv is “Yes, and.”
The “Yes, and” rule means don’t negate or reject things; accept what you’re given and build on it.
If you’re on stage and someone hands you an imaginary purple rabbit, take it. If you say, “I don’t need a rabbit,” the skit stops. But if you take the rabbit and say, “Yes, what a lovely rabbit, AND, oh look, this rabbit has the keys to a Ferrari in her paw,” the skit moves forward.
When you negate what you’re given, all the action stops. When you accept it and add to it, you create forward movement.
The same principle plays out in other areas of work and life.
When someone says, “There’s a problem,” and you respond with “No there’s not,” the conversation goes down a rabbit hole arguing about reality. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll move forward with anything positive. But if you validate their perspective and add to it, you can move ahead.
Author, stylist, TV star (and Vassar philosophy grad) Stacy London describes an “aha” moment when she first observed the power of the “Yes, and” rule at a friend’s home.
With three kids under the age of 6, London expected the house to be chaos, but instead, London said the kids were, “like aliens – so polite, so well-behaved, but (also) inquisitive and joyous.”
London asked the parents their secret and was told, it’s the “Yes, and” rule. The kids were taught to “Take what life has given to you, accept it wholly, and build on that; accept and create.”
Imagine what your workplace or home would be like if everyone could accept things wholly and create from there?
In the case of London’s friends, the kids were a wonderful combination of wildly creative and well-behaved at the same time. London describes it as “disciplined courage.”
London quickly realized that “Yes, and” is “not just a great parenting strategy, it’s a great life strategy.” She saw multiple implications for life, work and style.
Beyond being the co-host of TLC’s “What Not To Wear,” London is also a Phi Beta Kappa Vassar grad who double majored in 20th century philosophy and German literature, which explains her unique ability to connect the dots between what we wear and how we think.
In our sit-down interview, which my 14-year-old daughter, a huge London fan, gleefully observed and photographed, London described “Yes, and” this way. “Yes is about unemotional acceptance of where you are, AND is about a passionate strategy to move forward.”
In her newest book “The Truth about Style” London uses her version, “Yes … And?” (with a ? to indicate possibility) to help people accept their frustrations with their body, aging or budget, and to use style as a tool to step into a more positive self-image.
She writes, “We all put obstacles in our own path. If we understood why we constructed these practical and emotional obstacles, we might be able to look beyond them to healthier, happier perceptions of ourselves, and, ideally a better sense of self-esteem.”
Think about a challenging area in your life and try applying the model.
What would happen if you could accept where you are with no judgment or shame, and then create a passionate strategy for moving forward?
Yes, and – a great tool for moving forward in improv, style and life.