Sunday, February 8, 2009

What happens when you say Yes

Some of my best work experiences have involved being part of a hard-working, talented group of people who were open to collaboration. Ego disappeared, and we created work that none of us could've made individually. I don't remember ever discussing it formally, how it worked, and it was certainly never taught. The experiences seemed to happen naturally, almost accidentally, like magic.

In 12, we set out to learn whether collaborating, or creating as a group, could be learned and developed, and what affect it would have on the work.

One discipline we used to shape this way of creating was improv, specifically, improv performance. We were inspired by Mark Barden and Gary Hirsch and Scott Dawson, the first people I had heard of who were applying the rules of improv to a business setting.

Gary and his partner Brad Robertson held regular improv classes with us. They were fun for blowing off steam, but they were also an interesting way to explore some powerful ideas, sort of martials arts exercises for the creative mind: What happens if you stop worrying about yourself and try to make your partner look good? What happens if you concentrate on listening/noticing instead of talking/getting noticed? What happens when you say Yes?

Yes means, instead of behaving like a judge, evaluating incoming data as either positive or negative, you surrender your agenda and stay open to outcome. You begin to recognize undesired and unexpected things as offers you can choose to say yes to, and then ask, Now what can I do with this?

There are a few reasons this can be interesting. You can surprise yourself. You avoid wasting your energy wishing for a different reality. And in pointing the energy forward instead of creating resistance, you create flow.

Saying yes can be applied to all sorts of work beyond creating. Client wants to come to the edit? Yes. You're given a partner you don't get along with? Great. No media budget? Wonderful. The client wants to kill your campaign and start over? Great news. Reject nothing. Say yes and see what happens.

There are reasons it's hard to say yes sometimes. We're afraid we have something that can be lost or threatened. No can feel stronger, being in resistance to something. No is often the natural stance of creative people. We define ourselves by what we oppose.

But yes doesn't mean giving in or giving up who we are. On the contrary. It means recognizing that who you are can't be threatened when something new or unexpected enters the picture. As Luker used to say, "Nothing can touch you." So whatever it is, welcome it, say thank you even, and see where it takes you, where you take it.

This isn't about Suzy Sunshine making lemons out of lemonade. By saying "no," by trying to hold onto what is, we become brittle, and often miss the possibility of what might be.

I'm thinking about yes lately because Mark Barden invited me to come down to San Francisco to co-present on the topic with him at a small conference, and also because I had about half dozen things today that challenged my belief in this yes concept, from cutting off a hunk of my knuckle trying to cut a piece of rope - me and knives?! - to an exploded water heater in the basement that ruined a few portfolios.

Oh well. Yes, I guess? Sure. Yes.

If you are interested in this yes idea, you might enjoy this book.

It was written in 1979 by a guy many consider the father of improv, Keith Johnstone. It's a great, trippy intro to improv, and a manual for a radically different way of teaching and creating, built on following inexplicable urges and making the most of accidents. Super inspiring.


Ashly Stewart said...

I especially love the part about worrying less about yourself and trying to make your partner or your team look better. Sometimes you say just the right thing, and that is why I really enjoy your blog. Thanks =) Good luck at your conference.

Doctoredits said...

Timely advice I needed.
Have you ever visited Dirty South Improv in Carrboro?
Can I admit on a blog that I actually like the band with the logo on that shirt?

nelson said...

I couldn't agree more, Jelly.


Christian said...

Here's a great video of how the Pixar University dean uses improv:

Deana said...

Yes. The path of least resistance.

Also the name of a book from the 80's. Basic idea is that by taking the path of least resistance you open yourself up to creativity. Allowing the new in (people, ideas etc.) creates the new.

Anyway, great blog post - stay away from knives! jeez!

jana said...

i've been incorporating some of the yes and improv into a sketchbook class i've been teaching. whenever i'm having a hard time making a risky decision i remember "those who say yes are rewarded with adventure, those who say no are rewarded by the safety they attain"...and it always helps! audition is a good book too - i use those principles in my work a lot...happy valentines jelly!