We knew any presentation by actors from The Second City, Chicago’s world-famous improvisation troupe, would be funny. But who knew we would walk away with key insights into creating a collaborative work environment?
Yet that’s exactly what happened after we participated in an exercise led by Second City actors Colleen Murray and Mark Sutton at our recent Client Summit. Murray and Sutton asked us and the 200 other participants to break into groups of three for an exercise that taught us a valuable lesson about the power of positive reinforcement in fostering creativity and innovation.
The exercise started off with an imagined scenario: plan a memorable company party. One person in each group was designated as the party planner. Their task? Come up with some creative party ideas. The other two members were instructed to listen to each new idea, but then reject it and explain why. The negative responses had a chilling effect on the person pitching new ideas. Even the most creative types gave up after four or five ideas. They lost their ability to come up with anything in the face of all that negativity.
Next, Murray and Sutton instructed the three-person groups to rotate roles. Now a new person pitched ideas while the other two listened. But this time, instead of rejecting the ideas outright, the listeners were instructed to use a more subtle “yes, but…” response and share why the idea wouldn’t work. Again, it was a frustrating experience for the idea givers, who quit after trying a few times and getting nowhere.
Finally, the groups were instructed to rotate roles again. This time the two listeners were to use the phrase “yes, and…” to acknowledge, affirm, and build on the idea. The “yes, and…” response made all the difference. Ideas flowed. The groups generated innovative, creative approaches that none of the individuals would have come up with on their own. The increase in energy and collaboration was palpable as the room buzzed with animated conversations, laughing, high fives, and every other behavior you would expect to see when people are genuinely engaged with each other. Read the rest of this entry »