The number one thing I learned when I studied with improv group The Groundlings and also with Keith Johnstone when he visited the UK is:
It has applications far beyond the improv stage, so let me give you a quick explanation of what it means, starting with an example:
Let's say you're on stage and another actor (one new to improv) comes in. You decide he's your dad, so you say, "Hi, Dad!"
But in this case, now you have to come up with a reason why you thought this person is your when he actually isn't...or you have to say something like, "Dad, your dementia is getting worse!" In which case, I'm pretty sure the other actor would say, "I don't have dementia!"
As you can probably imagine, this scene isn't going anywhere interesting.
Starting a scene by denying (saying no) to what you are offered is a dead end.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE ACTOR SAYS "YES, AND..."
Now imagine that the other actor accepts that you're his son or daughter. He says, "Hi, Brad/Janet, I just wanted to find out whether you've decided yet."
Now you accept (say yes to) the idea that you were about to make a decision and make one up, like "I have! I'm not going ahead with the wedding."
If you're working with a group, that could be the cue for the bride or groom to come into the scene and say, "This is the happiest day of my life! I never thought I'd actually get married!"
Now you have some conflict that has potential to become a funny (or tragic) scene and the conflict is rooted in something real.
The "and" is the secret sauce.
If you just said, "I'm not marrying you!" and she said, "Yes, you are!" and you said, "No, I'm not!" etc. that doesn't go anywhere.
But if you say, "Darling, I'm not marrying you after all, but (this is the "and" additional material) I know someone who would be perfect for you!"
Rather than her screaming "No!" her more interesting response might be, "Oh...who?" (which is another form of "yes, and...").
OUR 'NO' MINDSET
For some reason, probably to do with evolution in some way, most of us seem to be primed to say 'no.' Of course we have to be able to do that, but often that leads to a dead end, whereas saying 'yes' and adding something often leads somewhere interesting.
ONE TIME 'YES, AND' PAID OFF IN LIFE
Some years ago I was in a class and chatted with a young woman who asked what I did. I told her I was a writer. She asked whether she could read something I'd written.
Some people are very worried that if they show their scripts, the ideas or the scripts themselves might steal the material. You can say 'no,' and thereby guarantee your material will not be stolen, but you'll also guarantee that nothing good will come of showing the script, either.
In this case, I said, "Yes...and I'll bring in a copy next week." (These days I'd just email it to her, but this was in the dark ages.)
I gave her a copy of a spec comedy script I'd written. The next week she said she loved it and that her boss wanted to meet me.
I had no idea what kind of job she had, but it turned out that she worked for a producer. She read my script at her desk on her lunch hour and he heard her laughing. He asked her what was so funny. She told him it was a script by a fellow student and he asked to read it. He liked it, too, and wanted to meet me in case any comedy assignments came up at his company.
I wish I could say it led to a million-dollar assignment; it didn't but it was still useful to talk to him and find out about his company--this was in the days before I had an agent or any other way to get to people like him.
I like that story because it proves that you never know what seemingly random event might lead to something useful.
WHAT ARE YOU SAYING 'NO' TO?
Naturally we have to prioritize because we can't do everything. But often saying yes and adding something doesn't take a lot of time.
It might be worth thinking about whether this year you'd like to try saying 'yes, and...' to more things and seeing what happens.
That could be in your career or your personal life.
DO YOU SAY 'YES, AND' OFTEN ENOUGH...TO YOURSELF?
It may be that the person you say no to most often is....yourself.
For instance, maybe you think, "Hmm, I wonder whether I could learn a new language this year."
It's easy to say, no, I'm too old, or I don't have time, or I probably don't have a knack for languages, or, or, or... dead end!
What if you said, "Yes, and I'm going to try it out by..." using an app like Duolingo, or taking a sample evening class, or finding lessons online, etc.
If you don't like it, you can still say no, but at least you'll have given yourself a chance.
Can you think of something that it could be useful or fun to say 'yes, and' to? Feel free to share (or to keep it a secret).