Innovation is all the rage these days. Everyone want's to be a "disruptor" or "alter the paradigm." It can happen; Uber and Chili Cheese Frito taco shells come to mind.
There's no one way to get there of course. But here's a thought exercise that can expand your mind to new possibilities.
Take a headline from an innovation newsstory, like the following:
Then take a line from the story that sounds like an origin of the idea. In this case, I choose: "During her senior year of college, Rose was dared to eat a fried scorpion while studying abroad in China."
Rose must have taken several dramatic and innovative steps between eating the scorpion and saving the world. Ask youself, what are some possible actions she took that led to such a life-changing result?
Some possibilities include:
1. Rallies her fellow bio students and persuades the college to fund preliminary concepts.
2. Works Lay’s and other large snack companies to obtain popular flavor profiles.
3. Automates proposal submission process with help from Google volunteers.
4. Researches salmon farms and applies parallel concepts to “bug farms.”
5. Reaches out to governments of poverty-stricken companies to promote health and positive outcomes.
Rose probably had her own ideas, but these are the ones that come to my mind. Then you can apply the same principle to something closer to you, like creating new programming, or offering a different product. Decide where you want to end up and back fill it with transitionary ideas.
As Lisa Daily, host of nationally-syndicated morning TV show, Daytime, "“You’ll never get a new ending if you keep starting with the same tired beginning.”
We throw around the phrase “active listening” a lot in the business world. It's short hand for concentrating, understanding, responding meaningfully, and then remembering the conversation. That can be a challenge, but for the most part we get it right. But what happens if there is more than one voice? How do you manage the different ideas and unique lines of thought?
I sometimes lead an exercise creatively called “story.” Half a dozen participants stand in a line. I point at each of them one at a time and they make up a story, picking up where their colleague left off. Everyone shares the role of the narrator.
It’s collective storytelling, which means in order to tell a coherent story there needs to be collective listening. (For some reason the stories almost always involve dogs. I don’t know why. Someone look into that.)
There are challenges to this practice though. For example, it can be really tempting to throw in your own twist – or as we call it in the business world, "Hey, look at me!"
Once upon a time there was a dog…
…that loved running through the forest…
…and chasing squirrels…
…and then he blew up!
That non-sequitur is the equivalent of jumping to a new agenda item during a meeting, or skipping to the exciting reveal of a client pitch. "Story" quickly demonstrates the need for collective active listening, or, “honoring the intention" of who came before you.
Where was my colleague going with this? What’s the next obvious thing that needs to be addressed? How can I support that idea. It’s sharing the narrative. It’s sharing the story.
Actively tracking each piece of the conversation and being inspired by your team will lead you to a better place. You are literally moving the agenda…pitch…meeting…brainstorming session, in the same direction, with the same intention.
The Myers-Briggs personality test is a process by which one performs a self evaluation and the result tells you which of 16 different personality types you fall into. There are many similar evaluative tests such as the Predictive Index or Traitify which attempt to mirror the same quantitative outcome, but Myers-Briggs is by far the most popular.
Although the test can be applied to many social and personal circumstances, it is most often used in the workplace in an attempt by the management to reform poor employee communications. In theory, the implementation of this process can create more agreeable collegial relationships.
Introspection and awareness of your personal communication strengths and foibles can be very helpful. Likewise, it can be satisfying to gain insight into how a colleague generally processes information. Defensively, anxiously, or excitedly, for example. You can alter your approach based on their expected reaction.
I have taken many such tests over my career and found them fascinating in theory, but cumbersome in practice. There is no denying that improving communication with friends and co-workers can have an empowering and positive effect on relationships. But personality tests, by definition, can create categories that isolate people from one another. They define perceived personal limitations and encourage you to consider how your personality type should interact with the opposing personality type. This approach is often mechanical and belies the natural human desire to find agreement regardless of “type.” As I tell my students when they are looking for a shortcut to success, “I would rather work the skill than find a work-around.”
DLM uses group mind and organic communication practices derived from traditional and improvisational theater. This allows one to stay in the moment, to listen, remain positive and find common ground by discovering constructive agreement. It’s experiential, not analytical.
Also known as the “Yes, And Technique,” this universal tool applies regardless of your communication environment and where people fall on the personality matrix. As you sharpen the effectiveness of your personal interactions it becomes second nature, and the differences revealed by testing become less important.
This comprehensive and natural philosophy encourages behavior we should all employ as a general principle. As mentioned in a previous post, this approach actually gives you the tools to be the change you want to see in the world, not simply define the things you want to change.
Collaboration in the workplace only thrives if people agree on primary goals and an understanding of the way to succeed. How often are discussions derailed by someone whose contributions are argumentative or contradictory? In improv theater, the idea of collective agreement is called “Yes, and,” and it’s an incredibly powerful tool for productive and positive business and interpersonal communication.
This form of unfettered agreement comes with the understanding that you don’t have to like 100% of what the other person says – alas, life is not that harmonious – but you do need to agree 100% that they said something of value and that it adds information to the discussion. In the office, you can’t solve problems if people are constantly undercutting each other’s ideas. On the improv stage, where we make stuff up as we go along, nothing works unless performers agree they are operating in the same reality. If you say it’s a dog and I say it’s a cat, that scene is going nowhere and we will end up fighting over which world we live in.
Transparently collaborative idea building has the benefit of creating some very memorable comedy theater, and brilliantly productive planning meetings. Unfortunately, humans by nature can be quite defensive and it’s our greater instinct to throw up road blocks in the name of saving our fragile ego. It often comes in the form of saying “Yes, but” instead of “Yes, and.” This natural inclination allows you to apply control over the other person’s idea, but it’s at the expense of a richer and more collaborative relationship.
Saying “but” is a qualified response that often evokes unnecessary conflict. “Yes, you have started the report, BUT I need it tomorrow.” There is no contradiction in those two truths. It is just as accurate and more cooperative to say “Yes, you have started the report, AND I need it tomorrow.” Candor with kindness!
If you have ever been on a second interview or a second date you already appreciate the acute value of this concept. In those situations you are eager to find common ground in order make a good impression. The moment you say, “You like movies, BUT I like books,” you have very effectively begun a list of things you don't have in common. If you were to say, "You like movies, AND I like books," you have just doubled your likes! Saying “but” is just a polite way of saying “no.” And when you say “no,” you are often not invited back. To either meet the team or go for a drink.
There is no doubt finding accord can sometimes be a challenge, but it does not have to be complicated. If you take the example, “I agree with your idea, but I have another one,” you can simply replace “but” with “and.” (Try it now, I’ll wait.) There is no factual conflict. Why invent one? No one likes to hear “Your idea is good, but mine is better.” When you apply “Yes, and” you are saying, “Your idea is good, and I have another one.” That’s a lot more palatable. Why yes, I’d love to get a drink!
The “Yes, and” technique is particularly effective when brainstorming. And particularly apparent when not in use. I have been in many brainstorming sessions where we were enthusiastically instructed, “Toss out your ideas and we’ll put them on the board!” And when someone has an idea that doesn’t conform to some hidden parameter – where the facilitator is essentially saying “no,” – that idea does not go on the board and that person doesn’t really feel like sharing any more. Using agreement and support for mutual discovery is the entire point of collective thinking!
When used judiciously, the result of all this unrestricted cooperation is it frequently leads to a more comfortable and productive working (and playing!) environment. Mike Morrell, one of my theater colleagues, calls it “the gospel of positivity.” We indoctrinate all of our students into that school of thought. I try to do the same with my clients.
The “Yes, and” concept is such a powerful path to effective communication, DLM embeds it in all of our training curricula. It’s a universal tool that can positively alter the tone of almost every interaction, including customer service, leadership development and project facilitation. How about personal relationships or client interaction? Can you think of other areas where agreement is the best route forward? Toss out some ideas and we’ll put them on the board!