Everything Is An Offer: A Tip from the World of Improv
For those of you who may not be familiar with the form, improv is the art of making stuff up. Improvisers work collaboratively to entertain diverse audiences by taking their suggestions and building stories, scenes, whole plays, in real time with no script or pre-planning. Sound scary? Perhaps. And it is what most of us do in one way or another every day.
Increasingly, business professionals are recognizing how similar their tasks are to those of the improviser. As the world moves faster and becomes more global and more volatile, there is less time to plan and more need for collaboration. There is less ability to predict what will happen tomorrow, and more need to be responsive and adaptable. So business people are turning to the world of professional improv for help. You see, in order for improvisers to succeed at their ridiculous endeavor, they live by certain principles that can be useful to anyone who must create, collaborate and build relationships.
What are these mysterious improv principles that leaders, salespeople, trainers and managers are adopting? There are a number. Among them: be spontaneous, dare to fail, make your partner look good, figure out what the scene needs and provide it. But, the foundational one that transforms organizations and individuals, is this: accept and build with all offers: and everything is an offer.
This rule is more commonly known as the “Yes, And” rule. It goes like this:
It is an improviser’s obligation to accept her partner’s “offers.” In improv parlance, an “offer” is anything that your partners says or does.
For example, if an improviser enters a scene and says to her partner, “Hi, honey, I’m home!” then the other improviser must accept that he is her “honey” and that this is “home.” If, instead, he replies, “Who are you, and what are you doing on my fishing boat?” he will probably get a laugh, but the scene will die. Improvisers know that in order to build something, you must accept what already exists. Because it exists.
How to build with the offers is the next question. That’s the “and,” and often improvisers find that if you are good at the first part, the second falls into place.
Let us be clear: saying “yes, and,” does not mean “agreeing.” It means recognizing what is there and finding a way to use it. It is easy to say “yes” when we expect or like an offer. Great leaders, creative individuals, survivors can also find something to “yes, and” in the offers they do not like.
Are these “offers” you could “yes, and?”
1. An employee crosses his arms and rolls his eyes when asked to stay late.
2. Your 5-year-old says she wants to play in traffic.
3. Someone else gets your promotion.
4. You cannot afford to keep all your staff.
5. New competition opens across the street.
6. Your computer crashes.
7. The other guy gets the girl.
8. The economy crashes.
Daunting? Let’s take #2 as an example and see what we can do:
Your five-year-old says she wants to play in traffic. You say:
A. “Ah! You like cars? Let’s play with a set of matchbox cars.”
B. “Oh, you would like to do something adventurous? Let’s go to the amusement park.
C. “Hmm, are you saying something shocking to get Mommy’s attention? Let’s cuddle.”
You will notice we are not suggesting you agree to go play in traffic, but look what offers we found that we could accept.
Saying “yes” is a muscle. If you would like to exercise your “Saying Yes” skills, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you some activities, complete with facilitator cheat sheets, to help you practice. In the meantime, we wish you open ears and open eyes and lots of delicious offers to play with.