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How “Yes, And” - The First Rule Of Improv - Keeps Life Interesting

By Liana Lozada

 “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it, say yes - then learn how to do it later!” - Sir Richard Branson.

Saying “no” has been the center of think pieces as of late, and rightfully so: Saying “no” establishes healthy boundaries, solidifies a lack of consent, and creates a sense of autonomy and self-consciousness authenticity. But, on the other hand, one may argue that its counterpart—saying ”yes”—has lost a little luster. So we’ve decided to give “yes” a little more love.

Saying “yes” is at Virgin Hotels’ core. The Yes! Team—modeled by Sir Richard Branson’s yes-driven mantra—elevates the humanity within our hospitality and gives guests the freedom to be guests. In comedy, “yes, and” provides improv artists the freedom to explore. In daily life, “yes” lends individuals the keys to possibility.

Here is how embracing a “yes” mentality can add a little zest to life.

Yes catalyzes creativity

If all the world is a stage, “yes, and” keeps the show going. “Yes, and” is considered the first rule of improvisation: This means if your scene partner yells, “Run! There’s a dumpster fire barreling down the hill toward us,” you don’t say, “what dumpster fire?”

A “yes, and” response would be:

“It is going so fast! We have to climb this barbwire fence before the dumpster fire hits us!”

Once your partner creates something, you respect it and add to it.

Comedy icon Tiny Fey digs deeper into the “yes, and” methodology in her book, Bossypants.

“You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute. Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile. To me YES, AND means don’t be afraid to contribute. It’s your responsibility to contribute.”

At Virgin Hotels, The Yes! Team turns what seem like mundane comments or audacious requests into contributive opportunities.

Once a bride’s mother requested a wedding date, so we sent her an inflatable Superman with a bottle of wine. (Can you imagine the wedding pictures?)

Another guest mentioned his apathy towards an upcoming meeting, so we dropped off a box with crayons, Playdoh, and MadLibs to entertain him during the session.

In these instances and others, “yes” laid the foundation for creativity and thoughtfulness. After all, you cannot think outside of the box if you deny the box exists. So in real life, think of a “yes” as an opportunity to push beyond comfort zones and make an impact on yourself or others.

Yes creates room for play.

“Work doesn’t work without play.” – Shonda Rhimes.

Following the first rule of improv—yes, and—gives space for play, something psychologists and behavioral specialists increasingly note as a means for more prosperous and fulfilling lives.

The National Institute of Play—founded by Dr. Stuart Brown—”is a non-profit public benefit corporation dedicated to advancing society’s understanding and application of play[. This] long-ignored biological capability can lead to healthier, happier lives.”

Dr. Brown defines “play” as “a state of mind that one has when absorbed in an activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of sense of time. And play is self-motivated so you want to do it again and again.”

Play for adults helps relieve stress, improve brain function, social skills, and relationships, and heal emotional wounds.

Shonda Rhimes, the powerhouse behind some of TV’s top shows, is a testament to saying “yes” to play. She even said it saved her career. Shonda shared her impactful story during a TedTalk and further documented her journey in her book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person.

During her TedTalk, Shonda described reaching burnout while managing four simultaneous shows. Then, one day, while hurrying out the door late for a meeting, her child asks her to play. At that moment, she decided to say yes every time her children asked her to play.

“[At that moment], I have nothing to do but pay attention. I focus. I am still. The nation I’m building…does not exist. It’s all peace and simplicity.”

Through her yes-meets-play process, Shonda’s burnout faded away.

“I wonder why we ever stopped playing in the first place,” she concluded.

Yes feeds opportunities

“As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?” – Tina Fey, Bossypants.

Yes does not leave room for thoughts on what could have been.

In 2000, Blockbuster turned down the opportunity to buy a then-struggling Netflix. Likewise, MySpace rejected Facebook’s acquisition.

Gary Vee denied investing in Uber twice—his $250,000 investment would now be worth over $300 million.

As sociologist Tracy Brower, Ph.D., concludes, “Ultimately, saying “yes” to opportunities is about saying “yes” to yourself.”

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