The Process

Creative Problem Solving

More than the latest CRMs or analytic models, there is one asset every organization should utilize to maximize the potential of their workforce: improv.

Improvisational comedy may seem “fly by the seat of the pants,” but there’s a method to the madness that is rife with practical applications. For instance, in improv “Yes, AND …” means when someone contributes an idea, you must accept it and then build on it by adding one of your own. If someone makes you a pirate, you roll with it by introducing yourself as “Blackbeard Bart.” Even better, your teammate squawks like a parrot and attempts to sit on your shoulder, while another starts belting out Jimmy Buffet tunes. That’s “Yes, AND …” – the golden rule of improv.

In contrast with “Yes, AND …” is “Yes, BUT …,” otherwise known as “negating” – a cardinal sin in improv. Sharing ideas renders us vulnerable. During ideation sessions, the ubiquitous “Let me play devil’s advocate” is negating. That simple phrase can halt any momentum you’ve built towards innovation and prevent the person whose idea was blocked from ever contributing another idea. “Yes, AND …” will keep the flow of innovation open and build trust within your team.

Making an organization more innovative requires the right environment and training employees with creativity skills. The methods I’ve borrowed from improv are unorthodox, yet highly effective across multiple disciplines. Here are three I’ve used with 7th graders, CEOs, engineers, attorneys, MDs and post-grads to successfully create “Yes, AND …” environments.

1.Set behavioral expectations
My first clients were Six Sigma teams. The majority of them were males – make that, alpha males. I noticed a correlation between latecomers and hecklers, so I implemented a new rule: latecomers would sing or wear bunny ears. (Imagine a 6’4” ex-marine singing “I’m a little teapot.”) Nipping some intimidating behaviors in the bud increased the confidence and participation levels of the more introverted and changed the entire group dynamic.I also make it clear that I expect everyone to participate actively. And they do.

2. Welcome ambiguity and diverse perspectives
Let people know there are no “right” or “wrong” answers or ways of doing things. Nothing is black or white. Where one person sees mistakes, another may spot opportunities.

3. Give people permission to fail
Here’s what I tell my students on the first day of class:
You will make breakthroughs by taking risks and getting out of your comfort zone. Whatever you do, jump in with both feet and go for it. If you fail, fail BIG TIME. Then get up again. You will make unbelievable progress.

I’ll use some of these “Jedi mind tricks” as facilitator for the ARTISTS + ENGINEERS SYMPOSIUM: THE ROLE OF CREATIVITY IN DEVELOPING THE 21ST CENTURY WORKFORCE on Thursday, November 12. If you’re seeking tools for fostering a more creative workplace, this is the ticket you’re looking for.

Meanwhile, I invite you to be part of the inaugural cohort for my brand new course at Rice: “Introduction to Creative Problem Solving.” It’s a great opportunity to level up your creativity skills and meet like-minded people, as well as receive a FourSight Thinking Profile. Class begins Monday, October 26. Visit to learn more and register.

Kim McGaw


Kim McGaw
Director, Professional Programs

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