If you’ve ever studied acting or improvisation, you are probably familiar with the “Yes, and…” exercise. In this activity, participants are asked to have a free-flowing conversation with the only requirement being that every response begin with the words “Yes, and…” The idea is that when you say this, you are accepting the idea that partner is offering and building on it. It goes something like this:

1: “Let’s go to the park.”
2: “Yes, and while we are there we can play on the swings.”
1: “Yes, and we can take turns pushing each other on the swings.”
2: “Yes, and that way we will be able to go higher than anyone else!”
Seems, fairly simple, but it is an important exercise because too often conversations actually proceed like this:
1: “Let’s go to the park.”
2: “No, actually, I’d rather go bowling.”
1: “No, but, I want to play outside.”
2: “Obviously, we should just go our separate ways…”
“No, but…” is dismissive and stunting. “Yes, and…” amplifies and enhances ideas and constructively solves problems.
1 – Offer a Proposal: “Let’s go ride bikes.”
2 – Create Specificity: “Yes, and we can fly down that giant, rocky hill .”
1 – Identify and Solve a Problem: “Yes, and we can line the hill in mattresses so that if we fall, we won’t get hurt.”
2 – Amplify an Emergent Possibility: “Yes, and afterwards we can all take naps on the mattresses when we are tired.
In STEAM, we collaboratively design new ideas and objects to solve problems that are personal, communal, or global. As we ideate towards these goals it is easy to point out the surface flaws in our initial ideas with a simple “But.” Instead, we force ourselves to identify and begin to solve those concerns in the form of “Yes, and.”

1: “I want to build a clock.”
2: “Yes, and instead of telling time, tells how many minutes are left in the current class block and what block is next.”
3: “Yes, and we can cut the block numbers out of vinyl and backlight them with LED’s.”
4: “Yes, and we can use a Raspberry Pi to run the clock and it can access information using the API from our online school management platform.”
5: “Yes, and we can mount it high on the wall and use the drop ceiling to run power and ethernet cables.”
6: “Yes, and we can make it interactive, maybe with voice commands.”
7: “Yes, and when I tell the clock my name it won’t just tell me what block is next, it will tell me what class I have!”

“No, but…” identifies a problem and shuts down process; “Yes, and…” proposes a solution and expands thinking.

Ideation is Improvisation
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