NEW YORK CITY – At first, Charlie Todd seemed like an odd choice for the 99% Conference. As an event geared toward creative business industries, it wasn’t clear why this improv comedy guru wearing sneakers and a plaid shirt was about to take the stage.
Todd founded the “New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places”. The now wildly popular collective goes by Improv Everywhere.
If you saw a scene from Ghostbusters in the New York Public Library, or if hundreds of people suddenly froze in their tracks around you at Grand Central Station, you were privy to an Improv Everywhere prank.
Back at the conference in midtown Manhattan, Todd was working with a slightly different crowd. Huddled in the atrium of the Times Center, about seventy conference attendees waited to learn how improv comedy techniques could boost workplace productivity. More precisely, how communication guidelines for improv can be used to generate and act on ideas quickly and collaboratively.
In apropos fashion, Todd asked for three volunteers.
Sitting in a row in front of the semi-circle of attendees, the volunteers were given instruction. The challenge of the exercise, and of improv comedy on a whole, is encapsulated in the phrase, “Yes, and… “.
“Yes, and…” is one basic rule of improv. “Yes” means you do not argue or contradict, “and” means you build on what your partner says.
“Be positive, be real, and act confidently what you are,” Todd said.
As the workshop got rolling, one thing became strikingly clear. “Yes, and…” is a really difficult method of communication to sustain. I watched volunteer after volunteer fail, and it suddenly became clear why Charlie Todd was at the conference.
We are rarely positive, rarely real, and rarely confident about our role in any given situation. It is easier and far more common to argue than to truly understand what someone is saying to us, and half the time we’re not paying attention to the instructions in the first place.
Imagine a world where co-workers listened intently and brainstormed with the zeal of a professional improv comedy troupe. Looks good, right?
Apparently, “Yes, and…” is already being adopted by workplaces around the world. A Belgian attendee told the audience he saw the rule-turned-moto printed on the doors of a design firm he visited last week.
In the end, Charlie Todd offered insights no other speakers at the conference could.