Saying Yes to Creativity

An expert on improvisational comedy will tell you that the key to successful improv is saying “yes”. If you’ve ever been to a show at Second City or have seen ComedySportz, you have witnessed this principle in action. Watch improv take place and you will see people saying “yes” to creativity.

Here’s how it works: ComedySportz has two teams competing against one another in various improvisational games. One such game is called “Mr. Know-It-All.” Mr. Know-It-All is actually three “professional” comedians and one audience member. A question about literally anything is solicited from the audience, and Mr. Know-It-All must answer the question. The “catch” is that the three comedians and one audience member must answer the question in the form of a sentence…one word at a time, said successively by one person at a time.

Mr. Know-It-All, can you please explain the Quantum Theory? Mr. Know-It-All responds one word at a time, one person at a time. The resulting answer is hilarious because each of the players says “yes.”

Saying “yes” obviously isn’t done vocally. Each person says “yes” in his or her head to what the previous player has said. “Yes, I will follow you.” “Yes, I will go down that road.” “Yes, I will take that turn, not knowing where it will lead.” “Yes, I’m going to jump all in and keep this going.”

Saying “no” will stop the game dead in its tracks. It won’t be funny. It won’t lead to interesting places. It will most certainly lead to stifled creativity.

Saying “yes” applies to all kinds of creativity. Over the weekend I got to see a production of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap. The entire audience was sworn to secrecy, so I won’t give away the ending. But as I watched I imagined Agatha Christie saying “yes” to her thoughts as they went down unexpected paths that led to twists, turns, and surprises. She was a master at it. She said “yes,” and wrote the longest-running play in London’s West End.

Do you cook? Say “yes” to an unexpected ingredient. Do you write songs? Say “yes” to a chord structure you’ve never tried. Do you paint? Say “yes” to painting a landscape that includes objects that are out of context. Do you act? Say “yes” to letting an emotion have its way with you.

How have you found a way that saying “yes” leads you down creative paths?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “Saying Yes to Creativity

  1. i have taught this lesson in college classrooms :).
    an example i usually give is when i was an assist. editor at a women's magazine. the editor asked if i ever shot covers? my answer, YES.
    nevermind that my only photography up to that point was of my 1 yr old in the back yard. the result… i got to shoot 4 consecutive covers and meet and interview some amazing people – i suggested that i write the cover stories to go with the covers, since in reality writing was my specialty and i was going to be there anyway. it set the tone for the way that the rest of my career would play out, and continues to go.
    when HCI publishers asked if i would write a book based on my Teen business magazine "millionaire blueprints teen"… i said "YES"… and found my book on the shelves at barnes and noble months later. and so it goes…

    so, i say yes to the yes. it works.

  2. I'd add, Tom, that taking a class in improv comedy is a great idea for all "creatives" out there. Larger cities with a comedy club presence often offer classes. They even offered one at my local community center for only $35! The basics of the formula are pretty easy to pick up, but they make a profound impact on writing, public speaking, and all forms of creativity.

    Also, I've often said when faced with a hard "no!" that "No is the second most powerful world in the whole world. The most powerful is Yes!"