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Tom Graves

"The second point is more subtle. It is the difference between accepting the "offer" and agreeing with it. In improv, it does not matter what you personally think about the offer - or the person offering it - you accept it."

In principle I do agree, and that's how I aim to work in most circumstances. Yet I don't know how to deal with a situation I'm aim to follow 'yes/and', yet the other person insists on 'yes/but' (or worse).

I see 'yes/and' as win/win, and 'yes/but' as a thinly-disguised version of win/lose. In that context, I want the other person to win, but they need me to 'lose' in order to gain the feeling that they've 'won'. (The inverse is also true - if less intense - with 'lose/win' players, people who believe that the only way they can help us win is by making themselves lose: for example, people who apologise too much for 'mistakes' in improv.) In my (painful) experience, this kills the improv flow stone-dead, which defeats the whole object of the exercise. The only solution I've found so far is the advice from old movie "War Games", that "the only way to win is to not play".

Do you have any other alternatives for improv circumstances where one or more of the people on-set have an apparently-obsessive 'need' to play 'win/lose'? And how would you suggest handling an improv-type business-context where there is no apparent choice to 'not play'?

Michelle James

Hi Tom. To answer you first point, one of the other "rules of engagement" in improv is keep the energy going (that is another way to yes-and - by not stopping to apologize for, judge, or evaluate your own or others' "offers" in the state of play. I have not seen what you described to be a problem if the principles are agreed upon.

Also, it does not meanly blindly accept everything all the time - it is a tool for expansion, like many other things to be used in context. Accepting offers and yes-anding are great for the divergent part of the creative process to expand the creative playing. At some point you get into convergence, (see my blog post on for the diagram on Divergence and Convergence) and you being to decrease, rather than expand, and in that, the no's emerge. For every generative yes, there are a series of no's that go with it. The problem is most people do not know how to sustain the yes-and long enough to get it really generative before going into the "but".

To answer your second question, the improv principles work best if everything is in agreement with them. If someone is playing "win/lose" they are already not in agreement with the basic principles. It does not mean YOU still can't use yes-and to try to transform the situation (which I have seen work) but if someone is coming from the foundation of win/lose, there is more involved than just learning how to accept. Like everything, there is no one answer to all things...but if acceptance, rather than agreement, is establishied as part of the co-creative "container",then the creative process will be more generative.



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