Yes And

By Jeff Carter

Last night, my family and I took a Dabble class.  It was Improv, and taught by Shelia M. Gagne.  This year, instead of traveling at Christmas, my family and I did the 12 Days of Christmas with a twist.  We have been blogging about it on Tumblr here. It’s been a lot of fun and last night was no different.

I had taken one Improv class before in my life.  At a HPA meeting, we brought in two instructors.  It was a lot of fun.  I have always been intrigued by Improv because like a lot of people, I loved Saturday Night Live as a kid.  If I wouldn’t have been so focused and practical, I might have gone there after college and learned the craft.

Improv is taught by teaching you word/mind games.  One of the first ones you learn is “Yes And”.  It’s an incredibly easy game, but incredibly tough to do too.  If you have to be entertaining at it, the difficulty screams higher.  But the interesting thing about the game is not necessarily what you say, but the things you learn while you are doing it.   The way it’s played is one person says something, and the next person says, “Yes, and” and says something that is related to what the first person says but could potentially take the conversation in a different place.

Some quick lessons:

  1. You have to listen, and really concentrate on a person.
  2. You can’t be passive.
  3. No questions can be asked, you have to make a statement

The interesting thing about the game is that when you say “Yes”, you aren’t necessarily agreeing with the person.  For example, you could say, “Sarah Palin would have made a great President.”  I’d say, “Yes, and Not every President is great.”  You’d say, “Yes, and….. and the game ends when someone gets stuck.

Mistakes happen in Improv.  All the time.  But, you learn to shake them off quickly and roll with it.  By listening, supporting, and being active, you sometimes are able to anticipate what the other person is going to do and it helps you move faster. This “Yes And” game sounds easy but it is not.  When you get going, you will want to ask a question.  Happens to everyone, every time.

I really think Improv can make a person a better leader and manager.  It requires you to be present.  Dick Costelo successfully lead two companies to nice exits, Feedburner and Twitter.  He was a Second City alum.

Yesterday, I read a Ben Horowitz Medium post about a book.  The book, High Output Management, is by Intel founder Andy Grove. It’s about managing people in a company.  Andy said, “CEOs always act on leading indicators of good news, but only act on lagging indicators of bad news.”  He also said, Optimists most certainly do not listen to leading indicators of bad news.”  By definition, entrepreneurs and founders are optimists.  They need to be cognizant of bad news so they can prioritize and act on it accordingly.

Andy Grove recommends having a lot of one on one meetings with employees. That informs the CEO about the company.  Improv can help with meetings like this because instead of interrogating and questioning the employee, you could play a “yes and” kind of game.  Questions stop conversation.  Yes and statements keep it moving.  Keeping the conversation moving will let you learn things that you didn’t know before-and possibly will unearth those leading indicators that a CEO needs to uncover and face before they become lagging indicators of bad news.

Jeffrey Carter is an angel investor and independent trader. In April of 2007, he co-founded Hyde Park Angels, one of the most active angel groups in the United States. He is a former member of the CME Board of Directors. Currently he is raising a VC fund, West Loop Ventures. He invests in people first, who use technology to transform industries.  His portfolio companies enable the pursuit of happiness to be realized.

He is a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Business, and has an MBA from the University of Chicago, Booth Graduate School of Business.  Mr. Carter is a long suffering fan of Chicago pro sports teams.  As a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan-see his Twitter profile picture, he will attend Chicago White Sox games at United States Cellular Field if you have good seats and the first beer is on you.

 Previously published on Points And Figures.