Sometimes (often), our most important ideas are borrowed wholesale. A number of years ago, I heard Tina Fey speaking about a comedic improvisation concept titled “Yes, And…”. To paraphrase the insanely smart crew from Second City in Chicago, an improv sketch dies as soon as someone says ‘no’. Regardless of how ridiculous a statement in a sketch may be, the improv actor’s response must only be an affirmative ‘yes!”, and must be immediately followed with the conjunction ‘and’, or the skit dies.
The team at Second City realized this concept applied to more than just improv, and started offering business seminars and published a book setting forth the principles of “Yes, And…”. While I believe the philosophy governs many human endeavors, I am absolutely certain it applies to the creative process and project management aspects of residential architecture and design. If you were to ask my seven-year-old daughter or four-year-old son which word daddy likes least, I am confident they would respond resoundingly with “no”. This would not be the first business concept I’ve taken home at the end of a week.
What I have found so interesting about “Yes, And…”, is that it applies not only to the collaborative design process, but equally, to project management. When a contracting partner says, ‘no, we can’t do that,’ our office is trained to say immediately, ‘Yes, And…‘, meaning ‘what might we do instead?’. When a client prefers a design solution that seems less optimal than other propositions, we get to a better answer by understanding their point of view and then moving the conversation forward. Disputes dematerialize as soon as the ‘Yes, And…’ approach is applied.
On a recent Monday morning we were talking about ‘Yes, And…” and going a bit deeper, I put forth that the concept applies most particularly to unexpected discoveries during construction. I went so far as to state that once the shock wears off, unexpected discoveries present unexpected opportunities. Coincidently, that very same day, we heard from a contractor that demolition had uncovered surprises at a site, and that the open plan as designed could not be accomplished. Reminded of the morning’s talk, the project team dug in and found solutions in response to the bad news, and the final design was unanimously preferred over the pre-discovery design.
More recently, a different contractor informed our office that we had failed to issue a late revision to an appliance schedule, resulting in the wrong wine refrigerator being ordered and installed. This mistake provided another interesting test case for “Yes, And…” The contractor’s first reaction was, “too bad – the client can live with it”, especially given the difference was solely aesthetic. Our mutual client might have accepted nothing could be done. Better, we could accept responsibility for the mistake and find a solution (replace the door on the unit, or swap out the unit and cover a punitive re-stocking charge). Returning and re-stocking the unit proved to be the best answer, and paying the accordant fees returned a meaningful dividend. By admitting/affirming the mistake (“Yes”) and finding a solution (“And…”), we demonstrated to our client that we are professional and accountable, and our relationship improved rather than deteriorated. We certainly don’t look to make mistakes, but when we do, “Yes, And…” is an indispensable tool.
When encountering a “Yes, And…” response to a tough situation, people are often skeptical, or think we are just trying to ‘spin’ the situation. It is a proven truth; however, that “Yes, And…” is a sincere and disciplined system of thought. “Yes, And…” provides us with a collaborative and affirmative framework to resolve conflicts, overcome mistakes, and exploit opportunities.
Thank you very much to Tina Fey for bringing the concept to light and to The Second City for sharing its toolkit.