Yes, and: The Power of an Idea

Kobi Yamada wrote a fabulous book called What Do You Do With an Idea? In the book, the main character finds an idea. He takes it with him everywhere. When he first shares it with others, they scoff at it. Luckily, the boy does not listen to the naysayers and instead nurtures the idea.  In the end, the idea takes form and … well … read it and find out.

I read this book yesterday to a 4th grade class. I had not met the students before, but they seemed pretty excited to have me there. At the end of the book read, we discussed the plot, and why people may not have supported the boy and his idea.

After the discussion, I led them through an improv activity called “Yes, but.” In “Yes, but” one person of a pair shares an idea. In this case, the idea was what the student wanted to do over the weekend. The other person’s job is to react to the idea with a “yes, but” statement. For example:

Student 1: I think it’d be cool to go to the zoo this weekend

Student 2: Yes, but it’s so hilly that you will get tired.

Student 1: Oh. Well, maybe I can go to the beach instead.

Student 2: Yea, but it’s supposed to rain on Saturday.

As you can see, it can be discouraging to have every idea turned down by others. (And honestly, who hasn’t encountered these people in our own lives?) After debriefing how disheartening that conversation was, we flipped the script. Now, the second person’s job was to add a “Yes, and” statement to the idea.

Student 1: I think it’d be cool to go to the zoo this weekend.

Student 2: Yes, and you can check out the new panda exhibit.

Student 1: Ooh yea! And I can take a picture of the plants they eat to show our science teacher.

Student 2: Yes, and you can probably buy a book on pandas to share with the class.

Now the idea is growing and taking shape. The students shared how it made them feel to have their idea encouraged instead of stymied. I left them with the call to action to focus on being idea encouragers instead of naysayers.

This activity is a great lead in to any design thinking project or empathy building activity. All ages, adults and children, deserve the opportunity to have their ideas heard. Who knows which of those ideas just might change the world!

Article: Yes, And… 5 More Lessons in Improv-ing Collaboration and Creativity from Second City

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