Bob Kulhan: Improv 101. How to Use "Yes, and."

Professor of Business and Improvisation

Bob Kulhan is an Adjunct Professor of Business Administration for The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University. He also is the CEO of Business Improvisations, based out of Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. For over fifteen years Bob has performed and taught improvisation internationally. His teaching and performing credits include Chicago's famed Second City (master artist in residence), Improv Olympic (resident company/faculty), Columbia College, London TheaterSports, The Banff Centre, The Australian Graduate School of Management, UCLA Anderson School of Management, Columbia University Business School, and Duke University’s The Fuqua School of Business.

His consulting and teaching work in leadership and managerial improvisation includes emphases on team skills, fostering a collaborative corporate culture, whole body listening, busting blocks to creativity, conflict management, dyadic relationships, creative and adaptive problem solving, leadership, and fostering creative cultures. Since 1998, his customized Business Improvisations programs have benefited a number of companies, including Young Presidents Organization, FOSSAC, Ford Motor Company, Risk Insurance Management Society (RIMS), Cushman & Wakefield, The University of Notre Dame: Renovare, SAS, Mazda, American Express Cards, Glaxo Smith Kline, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, PepsiCo, Capital One, and Procter & Gamble, R&D University.

  • Transcript


Bob Kulhan: The challenge that many leaders face is that we're analytical.  We think too quickly about why something can't happen or how to correct a problem, as opposed to twisting it and framing the brain that this is an unexpected opportunity; what can I do with it?  Improvisation creates a set of learnings, a set of experiences that allows you to fine tune and hone all of the necessary skills needed to think on your feet and simply react and adapt. 

The cornerstone of improvisation around the world is a great two-word phrase called "yes, and.”  “Yes” means that you accept everything that's brought to you, regardless of who brought it to you, regardless of what it is, regardless of what you think it means based on who gave it to you.  You accept it at face value. The "and" means you take this idea and build directly upon it.  Now, build directly upon it might seem like it's always complementary, and that's not always true.  You can build upon something by taking it apart.  You can build upon something by looking at it from a different angle.

So the "yes" creates openness.  Just the definition of it: it's affirmation; it's positive; it's acceptance.  That creates a style of thinking inside people.  And then the "and" is your reaction to it.  The "and" is the bridge to your thoughts, the bridge to your movement, the bridge to how you respond to others, who are reacting to this event in real time as well.

Using "yes, and" as a tool, you can actually create environments that foster creativity and foster talent, leading, of course, to innovation.  If there is a difference between the two of those, creativity, more of the process, innovation, more of the product.  "Yes, and" endows people with fearlessness.  There is not a mistake.  There is not a wrong way to do something.  That's the editing process, and something that leaders have a challenge with is editing too quickly.  Again, we're analytical thinkers.  We're critical thinkers. 

We have to learn to take that critical hat off and create an environment in which it's okay for ideas to fail, it's okay for people to take chances.  Once that area is created and individuals are flourishing inside of it, you create a second area for editing.  It's the difference between divergent thinking and convergent thinking. You have to separate the two so that you can diverge your thoughts and come up with this great collection of ideas, and then once you have this great collection of ideas, you focus on the convergent thinking. You start separating the sand from the gold and the good ideas from the bad ideas, and you start editing those out.

In order to create this environment in which people can come up with these ideas and diverge their thinking, you have to cling to "yes, and" so that you're not editing too quickly. 

Directed / Produced by

Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd