Join Stefan Mumaw for an in-depth discussion in this video Reviewing the improv exercise: Understanding "Yes, and..." in the context of ideation, part of Creativity Bootcamp.
- There are certain things that you learn about each other in an exercise like this, right? Sort of immediately. Because as soon as you decided who was the guy and who was the girl, and you knew the guy was speaking first, just like reading the problem, right? You were like: "OK what am I gonna say? "What am I gonna say, I'm gonna say something." But the moment you spoke, it immediately turned into improv. Because the other person had no idea what you were gonna say. So inherently it goes this way: Ready, go! Mumble mumble mumble laughter. Because you had no idea what was going to happen. Now think about where you ended up versus where you began.
Like when you saw this originally, you were like: "OK this is obviously "a conversation about two people." Like think about where you ended up in this exercise. There is one fundamental rule in comedy improv, right? There's really only one rule: and it's called "Yes, And". The principle of "Yes, And" is a principle of acceptance and building. So "Yes, And" has two parts: "Yes", meaning I am going to accept the world that you create, whatever world that is. If the first thing that you said was: "Oh I just came back from my job as a lion tamer." That's a dumb thing to say if you think about this scene, right? (laughs) But, part of improv is just accepting it.
You don't get to go: "That's stupid. "Why would you say that in this scene?" You don't get to break scene. You have to immediately accept the world that your partner has given you. "And" is the second part. "And" means: and I'm gonna offer something of value to it. I'm gonna build upon that, alright? And so you are willing to allow them to say whatever they wanted to say: your partner. Willing to... Why? Because you were gonna talk next. (laughs) And you wanted the same freedom you were giving them (laughs) 'cause you had no idea if you were gonna say something stupid along the way.
And that's what made it so fun: you immediately got free. Free of all judgement, free of all... inclination about what the scene should be. You immediately were accepting anything they offered. Now what's interesting inside of a brainstorming session, instead of an ideation session, is we don't act this way. We are constantly judging the ideas that we generate. Right, we're constantly breaking the "Yes, And" Rule. But imagine if you didn't. Imagine if you had this freedom in your ideation sessions. The freedom to say whatever you wanted and your partner would not only accept it, but add something of value to it so that you could "Yes, And" what they said, and you constantly built on one another, imagine that type of freedom.
Our number three: Creative Bootcamp Command is that we have to can the critic. Now this is brainstorming 101 is that you don't wanna criticize ideas, right? You don't wanna judge ideas. I'm not talking about outwardly judging ideas. It's easy. There are actually two judges in every room when you're having a brainstorming session or an ideation session: there is an outward critic. There's a guy going "We can't do that. "We don't have the budget, we don't have the time, "that's a bad idea, we did that last year." There's that outward critic who's shutting down ideas as they come. That guy's easy to get rid of, right? You just don't invite them next time.
Right, that guy's easy. But here's what the thing is: Every single person has an inner critic in the back of their head saying not to say the idea. Not to offer this germ of an idea or the seed of an idea. "I don't know where it's going." There's a little voice in your head saying: "You'll look stupid if you say that." But here's what's interesting: In our shape of ideation, it took something stupid to find novelty because there's something interesting that happens. It doesn't play this way out every single time, but it happens a lot. These ideas have a tendency to be more relevant.
These ideas have a tendency to be more novel. If you look at your original list, I bet you it plays out that way. These ideas are small, they fit in the box, they actually existed during wild west. These ideas start to stray from that, don't they? (laughs) They start to get a little farther away. And there's something interesting and novel about that. They may not work in their current form, but if you modify them, they could. What's interesting about this is you don't get to here without going through that. And that's the inner critic inside of us that's saying: "Don't say it, don't offer it.
"People are going to think you look stupid if you say it." But unfortunately in our process, it's necessary. So in order for us to be more creative, to train ourselves to generate ideas in greater quality and quantity over time, we have to learn how to shut that guy off. There's a neuroscientist named Charles Limb down at Johns Hopkins who's studying creativity. He's studying it in the context of Jazz musicians. Hooks Jazz musicians up into MRI machines, and he has them play a rehearsed piece of music and then an improved piece of music and then he goes and looks at the brain waves. And during the brain wave parts where it's improv music where the guy is just playing, it's an interesting contraption, he's just got it...
'cause it's a big doughnut. He's got it on his lap with a mirror in front of him and he's playing it. During the improved piece of music, the part of your brain that judges the quality of something completely shut down. And yet it's the part of the composition that they over and over again said it was the most creative piece of music that they played between the two. It's because they're not judging it, they're just playing it. They're just offering it. Did they make mistakes? Sure. But inside of those mistakes, even with those mistakes, the totality of what they offered was wonderful.
And they could build upon it. If we wanna be more creative, we have to learn how to shut that off.
Interested in learning more about the creative process? Check out Stefan's other courses on lynda.com.