The Next Great Evolutionary Leap

One of my Applied Improvisation colleagues sent me to a Harvard Business Review article by Tony Schwartz called “Why Don’t We Act in Our Own Best Interest” which mirrors a conversation I’ve been having with many.  It relates directly to my previous three blog posts on creating a culture of “yes” and the value of practicing the skills of Improvisation.

In the article, there is an explanation of why it’s hard for humans to solve problems.  It turns out that the fact that we’re human means we tend to think more in the short term and don’t see the connection between our behavior now and their future consequences.  We’re not good at delayed gratification.  It has something to do with our amygdala.  He talks about the fact that Harvard researchers found that wellness programs in organizations average a $3.27 return per dollar spent. And though CEO’s agree that the well-being of their employees increases performance, they also agree they don’t invest in that well being.  Seems kind of funny.  Where else can you get a guaranteed return that high?

The problem of course is we need to be better at delayed gratification.  Schwartz says “The value of investing money and time in taking care of employees, rather than simply trying to get more out of them, can seem hard to measure. Also, because it doesn’t produce instant results, it may seem at odds with the urgent aim of getting more done, faster, right now.”

Schwartz also says “We don’t lack for potential solutions to our problems so much as we do the willingness to intelligently sacrifice in the short term, in the service of generating more value in the long term.  To do that, we need to learn to better regulate our emotions, which begins with gaining more control of our attention. That’s the next great evolutionary leap, and it’s on the horizon.”

The most significant part of the article to me is that there is research going on to show that through practice, we can “ systematically train the regulation of negative emotion and increase our capacity for calm reflectiveness in the face of high stress.”   That’s exactly what stage improvisers practice to perform without a script and the practice is fun, even for most introverts.

So keep practicing being present and “yes, anding” people and situations.  It will help with your stress level and you’ll already be part of the next great evolutionary leap!

Click here for the article.


An Answer to a Question is More Than “Yes” or “No”

In groups, people often approach suggestions as if the response needs to be a “yes” or a “no”.  Alright, we know that “maybe” is also an option but that’s really a show stopper without more conversation.  I’m wondering if now more than ever, the problem is that people are so stressed for time that the uncertainty involved in anything other than “yes” or “no” is unbearable.  I can imagine people sitting in meetings with their inner voice saying, ” Please no, we can’t spend more time on this.  Just decide!”

What if the assumption in meetings was that suggestions could not be responded to with a “yes” or “no” without a minimum of 3 minutes of discussion?  With your group, you could create an agreement that anyone who felt an immediate “no” response would ask questions to find out more about the idea and to allay their particular fears.  Anyone whose immediate response is “yes” would be obliged to say the advantages they see to that suggestion.  That way, more data would be put on the table and the group might learn to de-personalize the yes or no responses.  Ideally, someone would facilitate the conversation and maybe even flipchart people’s comments in a plus/delta format.   The plus side of the flipchart for what’s working or what’s good about an idea, the delta side for what would need to change to make this work.  I suspect this would lead to a different quality of discussion then going directly to what’s wrong or won’t work about an idea.

What Does it Mean to Have an Organizational Culture of “Yes”

In my last blog post, I asked the question  “What would happen if your organizational culture was one of “yes”?  I imagined that some people reading the post thought something like “She’s crazy!  If we say “yes” to anything more, we’ll explode.”  Indeed, libraries already do so many things for so many people that adding more, probably won’t work.  I’d like to clarify what I mean by creating a culture of “yes.”

When answering a yes or no question such as, “Would you like to go to the beach?”  a “yes” answer expresses affirmation.  People like to hear “yes.” It feels better (a clue as to the value of “yes” in bringing people together).

When talking about creating an organizational culture of “yes”, it’s important to understand that “yes” does not necessarily mean agreement. It means “I hear you and accept your offer and will look for the possibilities” as opposed to “here are all the reasons your crazy, misguided idea won’t work.”

A culture of “yes” is one where people are committed to listening for possibilities, to putting their internal critic on hold, and to appreciating all contributions.

In a culture of “yes”, people feel safe to suggest, to give feedback and to experiment because they know people will listen for what’s good and useful.

In a culture of “yes”, people will learn that it’s safe to ask for clarification when they don’t understand.  They will learn that “mistakes” should be mined for information instead of being grounds for punishment.

Once you build this kind of trust in your organization, all staff will feel empowered to help find solutions and create new services.  So, consider starting to create a culture of “yes” in your organization because with everything the libraries are trying to provide these days, we need all the yessing we can get!


Working in the spirit of “Yes, And…”

I was reading Public Libraries magazine.  You know the one that comes in the mail and you hold in your hands.  I was pleasantly surprised to find an article by the PLA president talking about how to create partnerships with your community.

Now, for any of you that know me, you’ve heard me talking about the skills of improvisation and how useful they could be to library staff.  So I was delighted to find our PLA president saying:“We found our organization opening up after a communications training session that taught the “yes, and…” principle.  “

Yes, And… is one of the main principles that improvisers use and practice.

When I mention improvisation, people sometimes get worried that they will have to “perform” but it’s not about performing.  There are skills improvisers practice that help people work together effectively.  In fact, if you’ve been in one of my workshops in the past 5 years, you’ve already done some of the same activities improvisers use to hone their skills though you probably had no idea you were practicing “improv”.

Here’s why the skills of improvisation matter to libraries.  One of the things that makes it difficult to move forward in libraries besides money, is people stuck in old beliefs or old mental models of what the library should be.  To keep libraries viable into the future no matter what that future looks like, we need to retrain staff to be flexible, nimble and collaborative so that each person’s perspective and experience can be used to create the future of the library.  It’s very similar to what stage improvisers do.  They practice a skill set that allows them to support each other in an ever-changing environment.  That’s exactly what we expect our staff to do on a daily basis.

I have the same question Marcia asks in her Public Libraries article “What would happen if your organizational culture was one of “yes”?