The Art of “Yes”

I remember reading an article about that Drew Carey show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” it was about improvisation and apparently, the Golden Rule of multi-person (two or more people, obviously) improvisation is, quite simply, that one should never say no.

The idea is that improvisation is a thing that builds inertia, where creativity feeds creativity and momentum is gained through positive affirmation. So, when a suggestion is made, the idea is to go with it, or to modify it by building ON it. By taking what was suggested and making MORE of it, not less of it.

For example (a silly one, but anyway) “Lets use this pole as a seesaw and ride it”. The response options, for example, could be:

No, that’s silly. Lets pretend it’s a ….. instead” or

Sure, that will be fun! And then when we finish that we can maybe pretend it’s a ….,

Which one, in your thinking, was the successful improvisation? Which one created a story line and fed the creative process? And which one stopped it dead in its tracks and sucked the life out of it?

What does this simple example illustrate? The power of collaboration over competition. Laying down the need to be exclusively right. So often we work off the premise that “for me to be right, you must be wrong” I think it’s instinctive. And its wrong. Plain, dead, wrong.

What, from this simple illustration, would the keys to a successful improvisation be? Keeping it simple, may I suggest the following three:

  • Abundance – there is plenty of opportunity for everyone to have a turn;
  • Generosity – It’s ok if you go first;
  • Vision – there is a bigger thing going on here than just me.

Poverty minded people cannot do “improv”. They are too busy making sure there will enough for them; that the way they interpret things is accepted as right. Selfish people cannot do “improv”. They want to be first and most important. And self engrossed people cannot do “improv”. They are too busy being worried about how they look and what people will think of them, to pick up the bigger picture and run with it.

Here’s the catch. Life is “improvisation”. There is no script. No Director, and no Producer. There are just actors on a stage. Me and you. You and someone else. And occasionally some other people. So how do we do this thing so that it is not an embarrassing flop? I think it’s actually quite easy.

Never say no.

Now obviously there are times to “say no” and a failure to do so could be catastrophic. But in the main, when two or more people are just trying to get something done, “No” is not a very helpful word.

What are the two greatest multi-person improvisational roles we play? For me, that’s easy! Marriage, and parenting! And I truly believe this Golden Rule of improvisation is one of the fundamental keys to success in both areas. Never say no!

Trying to get a child to do something can be interesting to say the least. If I set myself up as “right” and this thing (like a bath, or bedtime) has to get done NOW, chances are there will be a battle of wills while my boy finishes playing with a toy or something.

Far better to take his lead, and integrate his story with the one I need to make happen: “Hey, lets see if we can do this with your ____ and then if it works maybe we can play some more after the bath…” works a whole lot better than “OK, put everything down and get in the bath!

I often found myself saying “NO” just because I could. I had the power to direct what and when. So I did. It was a beautiful moment when I chose to say yes more often and let things play out more naturally without being a boring contrarian “adult” all the time.

The beauty of this is the validation and affirmation that he feels, and the sense of being liked, welcomed and important to me. My schedule can wait 5 minutes, to bring him joy and pleasure and get him onto the family team without a fight. What’s 5 minutes anyway in the scheme of things? Or, I can crush him with my rightness and devalue his imaginings and his play to get things done my way. No contest!

Running the household, talking through parenting stuff, marriage stuff. Working out our team and how we will do this journey we have embarked on together. Planning and scheduling. These things with my wife can also be a challenge if I am sticking to my guns and wanting her to do it my way… and if she is sticking to her guns and wanting things her way! Why not have an abundance mentality:

How would YOU like to do this?” and “Of course” and “Yes, no problem”. “Sure, that’s great. When we have done that can we maybe try make time for ______?” and “At the end of the day, as long as we have managed to do ______, I’m not fussed how or when we do A, B, and C” Lets fall over ourselves to make room for the other person! There is time, there is room, there is plenty to go round! What would we rather have? Have it my way, and be “right”, or share the pleasure of getting family right? Also, no contest!

I have been around people who are never happy. Always wanting things their way, always with an opinion about why something isn’t good enough and they have a better way, a better idea. “Yes” doesn’t come easy to them. 80% good enough isn’t good enough. Heck, 95% good enough isn’t good enough…

Over the years, I’ve had acquaintances like that and colleagues like that. (On occasion, I confess I have been like that myself) It’s very unattractive, and soul destroying to be around.

In a marriage, it’s easy, very easy, to sacrifice intimacy and togetherness on the altar of being right. As a parent, it’s very easy to lose your child’s heart and crush a young spirit, by being an authoritarian, “one-trick” parent. And in the workplace, its very easy to lose your place in the team by being an “every silver lining has a dark cloud” kind of person.

I think there is huge merit in making the Golden Rule of Improvisation, one of the golden rules of marriage and parenting.

And the workplace.


Just thinking…


About Vaughan Granier

Just Thinking...
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