December 4, 2017
BIZ BOOKS

How the art of improv applies to business

"Getting to 'Yes And' — The Art of Business Improv" by Bob Kulhan with Chuck Crisafulli (Stanford Business Books, $29.95).

If you've ever been at an improv comedy show, you've seen actors work unscripted to create entertainment. Employees are improvisers, too. They deal daily with unscripted change in the form of shifting priorities, email, phone calls, and working with others relative to time, tasks and projects.

Kulhan, who trained improvisers at Chicago's legendary Second City improv theater, applies the "Yes, and … " principle of improv to the workplace stage. Here's how yes-anding works: Improvisers don't go with the flow; they create the flow. When saying Yes to whatever's said or happens, other actors see Yes as a gift, and provide the thank-you "and," which leads to the how and what that moves the scene forward. It may not move in the direction that the Yes speaker thought it would; it definitely moves the way the "and" responder directs it — until the next "Yes, and … " presents itself.

The outcome-based workplace environment for using "Yes, and" differs from the entertaining stage version. The workplace needs bridge-building relationships to achieve results. Yes acknowledges what the other says without judgement; the "and" lets the other know that you listened and want to know more about his/her perspective.

Yes-anding creates a culture that values diverse opinions and ideas, and treats people with R-E-S-P-E-C-T, which builds trust. Used to probe how, why and what, yes-anding focuses employees on doing their homework. This motivates people to own their work product and collaborate with colleagues to connect the dots.

Takeaway: "Improvisation is all about reacting and adapting and communicating." Remember that "Yes, but … " means the other party hears "No," and shuts down the conversation.

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