Have you ever seen an episode of the television show, Who’s Line is it Anyway? For those who haven’t, we believe that you are missing out on watching a fun program. More importantly, however, as marketers and innovators, we know that you are missing out on seeing a key principle in action that can be applied to spur effective innovation. More on that point in a moment.

Let’s face facts. Successful innovation is difficult to attain. There are many barriers to successful innovation. This is a primary reason the success rate for new products is so low. Successful innovation is simply a challenging goal to achieve.

The inevitable question then is, How can we begin to break down these barriers to make successful innovation an easier process? Well, it arguably begins by being positive and leveraging a very fundamental principle of improvisation and then applying it to the innovation process.

The Power of “Yes, And”

If you are paying close attention while watching, Who’s Line is it Anyway?, you will realize that there are many instances during scenes in the show where the performers use “Yes, And” thinking and acting. This represents a foundational rule of improvisational comedy. Briefly, it asserts that it is critical that an improviser must accept what another improviser states as reality (confirming it by saying, “Yes”), and then expand on that new reality (by adding the “And” build).

This simple concept – when applied to the innovation process – does wonders in breaking down many barriers that kill innovation initiatives. Let’s cover some of these barriers that using improv’s concept of “Yes, And” helps to overcome. In a word, it is powerful.

  • Biases: We often think – mistakenly – that previous success provides an experience that prepares us for future success. However, there is a danger that all experience, success, failure, frustration, and complacency can bias our creative efforts. All these biases, whether it be status quo bias or confirmation bias, or some other bias for that matter, can be alleviated through improv ideation.
  • Fear: There are few fears greater than losing control. Perhaps all phobias are born of this fear. But this fear can stop innovation in its tracks. The fear of being wrong, of looking like a fool, of the repercussions of being wrong or right but not being aligned with the boss, causes hesitancy. Activities included in an improv ideation session are specifically designed to set aside that fear.
  • Status: If a work culture relies heavily on status, most people will not feel they have the freedom to experiment, explore, discover, and improvise without being told to do so. Status is something given to you by other people. If the boss always speaks first and others only feel safe when they follow what the boss says, one or two vocal people end up dominating the session with their version of the “right answers.” In this case title trumps the will of the consumer. Improv ideation keeps the consumer in the room.
  • Apathy: If people find themselves in a culture or team that has lost its motivation, intrinsic motivation will likely be suffocated. Apathy is more than just a bad attitude; It is a mental model that controls decisions, effort, and visibility of what’s possible. When this way of thinking is pervasive it’s nearly impossible to take the risk necessary to innovate.
  • Structure: Organizations each have a unique personality and culture. If we bring into an ideation session organizational bureaucracy, rules, rituals, silos, and hierarchy, then the innovation process suffers. “Yes, And” places all participants on the same level.
  • Denial: There are cultures in which people focus on being negative, shooting ideas down and finding reasons not to try. This means each idea is choked by “what can’t be” rather than “what could be.”

The Power of Improv Ideation

What has been shared in this blog post does not cover all the barriers that improv’s principle of “Yes, And” can overcome in innovation ideation. It does, however, highlight the power of “Yes, And”. Use it, apply it, and reap the benefits of this powerful key to successful innovation. It breaks down barriers, and in the process, can make you an innovation superstar.