Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Happy Accidents by David Ahearn, Frank Ford and David Wilk. Copyright © 2017 by Four Day Weekend Inc. All rights reserved. This book is available from all bookstores and online booksellers. www.wiley.com/buy/1119428564
Whether it finds you in your professional life or your personal life, opportunity is present in each moment of each day. Great ideas and suggestions are presented to us all the time, and the difference between someone who is successful and someone who is unsuccessful is simply the ability to recognize opportunity and then seize it. So often we live in the space of saying the word no, and we do this so reflexively, that the best opportunities go unnoticed and pass us by.
In the world of improvisation, we strike the word no from our vocabulary and replace it with a technique called “Yes, and.” We have trained our brains to listen well and then to build on the pertinent information of our partners to come up with out-of-the-box ideas that we normally wouldn’t have.
How often in your life has someone offered you a suggestion you instantly dismiss that may have been the genesis of an extraordinary innovation? How many times has someone suggested something crazy and then you quickly dismissed the idea? That very idea could have changed your life.
Forward thinkers like Steve Jobs constantly challenged convention in the face of major resistance, only to prove the doubters wrong, and as he said, “Put a dent in the universe.” Great thinkers and doers aim to put a dent in the universe, the force that creates that dent is the word “yes.”
There’s an important element that’s also necessary in order for ideas to materialize into the physical realm, and that word is “and.” Saying yes is crucial, but by adding the word and, we allow others to add their take to the original idea. We always say yes is the spark plug that ignites an initial idea; however, the word and is the engine that keeps the idea moving forward. It brings everyone into the arena of the idea, and now your idea becomes our idea. Once we all have ownership of an idea, we’ll work harder to accomplish bringing that idea into reality.
In our world of improvisation, it’s not about what one person creates — it’s about what we create together as an ensemble. Every organization from a corporation to a family unit is far better and more effective when we honor and include everyone’s ideas. Each person is an expert in something that others aren’t; if we value the differences, we create innovative, unconventional ideas that otherwise would not be realized. This all starts with adopting an attitude of acceptance and the words “Yes, and.”
When we meet ideas with acceptance, we ignite the fires of opportunity and Happy Accidents. Framing ideas in a positive light with the word “yes” opens up people’s creativity because they feel their ideas are being accepted, and they feel they are part of the group or institution. The word “and” breeds inclusion of the entire group. This creates loyalty in the organization because everyone feels heard and feels directly responsible for the success of the group. This is not a panacea that only exists in fairy tales. It’s a culture shift out of the word no and into the world of “Yes, and” that takes time to implement and does not happen overnight. Like working out our bodies in a gym, we work the “Yes, and” muscle in our brains. Over time, it becomes a conscious lifestyle choice and soon leads to the recognition of Happy Accidents.
Once we fully enter the space of seeing the value in all things, we start to recognize perceived bad luck to instead be divinely orchestrated where we can capitalize on this unexpected opportunity. Sometimes being fired from one job creates the pathway to discovering our professional purpose (it certainly did in our case). The key is to see opportunity in perceived bad luck. It takes a unique, forward-thinking optimist to see the silver lining where most see the cloud. Our greatest leaders saw the luminescence of the edges of our darkest times and created opportunity. This comes from a place of seeing the potential where others see only the pitfalls: all possibility starts with “Yes, and.”
In improvisation, we give something that we like to call gifts to other performers. This is simply acknowledging the talents of those around you and setting them up to exercise those talents. If someone is proficient at doing impressions, we will create scenes in which that performer can shine by showcasing their talents of impersonation. If someone sings well, we orchestrate scenes to allow them to improvise songs. Saying “yes” to other people’s ideas is giving the gift of expression to those around you; in return, they will allow you to say “and” to improve the original idea. This is giving a gift. We allow others to flourish with their talents, and they in return allow us to flourish with ours.
You don’t have to be an improviser to give gifts; you can do it at work and at home as well. Giving gifts allows others to shine without any need to steal the spotlight from them, and they will in return give us gifts. This is “Yes, and” — and it can fundamentally change your life for the better. Be a gift giver! C&IT