Before I embarked on my career as a full-time writer - or as my friends would snidely put it: "creatively unemployed" - I spent several decades doing inner-city youth work. Which means that I spent a lot of time with guidance counselors, teachers, coaches, pastors, and many a frustrated parent trying to come up with ways to make a difference in kids’ lives.
At times it was grueling. Sometimes even discouraging.
And many times supremely rewarding.
Like the times when we did things together that none of us could've done alone.
Like when me, 15 to 20 teenagers, and a handful of adult volunteers would take those whirlwind trips to Chicago. To eat in world-class restaurants. Roam through the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Attend plays at the Steppenwolf and Touchstone Theaters. And take improv classes at the Second City.
Yep. To see the likes of Steve Carrell, Tina Fey, Scott Adsit and others before they 'made it big.' To run into them afterwards in the deli across the street and tell them how much we enjoyed the show. And to take improv classes where we were all taught a great lesson: to learn to say "Yes, and..." rather than "No, but..."
Let me explain.
Many of us believe that we're funny when we put down someone else. Or we respond to someone else's joke by trying to outshine them with a different joke of our own. That doesn't work in improv where teamwork is the rule of the day. When someone starts a sketch, the others on stage don't respond with a completely new idea ("No, but..." thinking), they respond by building on the original idea ("Yes, and..." thinking).
For instance, Actor One might start the sketch off by saying: "This ballet performance is the best I've seen in ages."
Actor Two says: "No, we're not at the ballet. We're at the zoo."
Don't you just feel the air being sucked out of the room?
There's a tug of war. One actor might win. One won't. But it's the audience that will be the real losers.
Now compare it to this:
Actor One says: "This ballet performance is the best I've seen in ages."
Actor Two says: "Yeah, but whose idea was it to use real camels?"
You see the difference? The ballet and the zoo ideas merge and create new possibilities. Both actors win and the sketch may move in a direction that neither of them anticipated. And the true winners? The audience.
And this is how I often cook. When I read a recipe I rarely ever say, "No, but..." Instead, I take what's offered and build on it with a "Yes, and..."
I found a recipe for pork tenderloin the other night. It sounded good, but not great. Rather than toss it ("No, but...") I decided to give it a shot with some tweaking ("Yes, and...). So I built upon a good foundation and expanded on it by adding to the marinade and creating a sauce to finish it off.
Both my guests and I were the richer for it.
So go ahead, pull out those cookbooks. Even mine. But feel free to use them as suggestions and build on them.
And once you get it down in the kitchen, feel free to apply the "Yes, and..." philosophy to other parts of your life.
I have. I believe it's not only made me a better cook, but a better human being as well.
Can I get a "Yes, and..."?