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Screw the MBA: Get a degree in funny!

By Linnea N Meyer '14  |  february, 2013, Issue 1
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Linnea Meyer strikes a pose.

Ok, I'm not quite advocating you leave Booth for Second City. There's a reason you're here and not somewhere else. (So you hope!) But after training in improvisational theater, I can honestly say it's had as much an impact on my daily life as any degree I've paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for.

Take the concept of "yes, and." Many of you heard this at LOR, when Chicago's IO team gave us a taste of improv. For those who missed it, or were still recovering from the prior night's festivities, "yes, and" is simply to accept and affirm.

On stage, this translates to accepting and affirming what other players initiate – words, emotions, environments, anything. If they console you on the death of your pet, roll with it and incorporate this new information into what you're doing. Denial only halts the scene and leaves you with the burden of making up something else. (It also irks the other players.) "Yes, and" also means accepting and affirming the choices you make on stage: No matter how stupid you think you look, own it. Your conviction in whatever choice you made will be enough to move the scene forward.

So why should you care? You can use "Yes, and" to win. At life. Boo-yah!

"Yes, and" fosters creativity. In my last brainstorming session with a startup, we threw around slogan ideas, sans censoring. Some were ridiculous – "Grandma goes viral" – and others unintentionally inappropriate – "Unplug Grandma" – but saying "yes, and" to each gave us the raw material from which our final slogan emerged. (Intrigued? Talk to Felisha Liu or Deirdre Amola.)

"Yes, and" creates momentum. I'm in good company here. Professor Craig Wortmann explicitly references "Yes, and" in Entrepreneurial Selling, as a tool to "pivot" back to your agenda. Say someone in your study group starts recounting his latest TNDC drama. To politely get back on track, all you need to say is "Yes, that must have been a crazy night! And that reminds me how crazy hard this Investments p-set is!" The "Yes, and" is a bit stilted, but it works.

"Yes, and" projects confidence. After coaching first-years for case interviews, I've noticed almost everyone struggles with where to begin: "Customers? Competitors? Company? If I'm wrong, I'll bomb the case!" The trick is to stop doubting and start "Yes, and"-ing yourself. Just pick a path; as long as you provide a reason for why, your interviewer won't care and will simply redirect you if needed. Confidence weighs more than immediately cracking the case.

Still don't believe me? This is Booth, so here's an experiment to collect data. Grab a friend. Try to hold a conversation where each time you speak (except the first) you begin with "No, but." Now try again, with "Yes, but." Now try a third time, with "Yes, and." None of the conversations will feel completely natural, but which feels closest? Which most builds on itself (creativity), flows in your intended direction (momentum), and allows you to commit to a point of view (confidence)?

I'll bet it's "Yes, and." Could this be confirmation bias? Yes...and it could be improv awesomeness!

Last Updated 2/10/13
Last Updated 2/10/13