Have you ever seen what kids can do with a box of crayons, a big, empty cardboard box and an afternoon to kill? They may build a rocket ship and explore Mars. They might build a pirate ship and bury treasure. Kids have boundless imagination. They also have a natural sense of partnering and affirming each other. They instinctively work together to explore ideas that defy time and space.
As we grow up, the time in our lives when afternoons stretched endlessly ahead fades. Play time gets interrupted with the structure of class time. Eventually, we lose even our summers to year round work. Today’s workdays come at dizzying speed and exponential complexity. Creativity is a fundamental requirement for survival. Yet, American workers are experiencing a creativity crisis. Ironically, the creativity that we naturally tapped into as children seems unnatural as adults. As Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
How can leaders help employees get back in touch with their inner kid? Many companies like Google, PepsiCo, and MetLife are turning to improv. As you may have seen on the popular show Whose Line Is It Anyway?, the premise of improv is simple. Performers don’t know what will happen on stage until they’re given a prompt. They start with that prompt, making up the story as they go along. Improv draws on the time-honored principle of “yes, and.” Performers accept whatever their scene partners do or say as part of the reality of the scene and then build on it with their own contributions.
Think about our conversations with our own teams. Ever notice how often we say “but?” What happens afterward? The team stops contributing ideas, they physically pull back, the light goes out of their eyes. To truly create, our teams need a safe space where they can generate unique ideas, then combine those ideas into the best result. As soon as we say “but,” the creative process can no longer move forward. Simply put, “but” stops the bus.
Saying “yes, and” tells your team that you are doing two important things. First, you are affirming that you respect the thoughts and ideas of others. That’s big. Second, you are truly listening and are willing to build on the ideas of others. That’s huge.
The more we practice “yes, and,” the better we hone four powerful leadership skills:
1. Listen more respectfully
2. Pick up on subtle cues
3. Demonstrate trust
4. Value opinions
Let’s face it. Not every idea is going to be a home run. But, building creative, collaborative teams is a leadership imperative. Collaborative teams are focused and present in the moment. They affirm one another, think on their feet, and adapt quickly to unexpected demands.
Question: How often do you get off your but and draw out the best from your team?