I first started working with Keep The Change right after graduating college in 2021. On top of learning Keep The Change’s small team dynamics and fast paced processes, the transition from school to work was a huge learning curve for me. As I was navigating this new professional workspace and its challenges, I found myself thinking back to improv lessons I learned from my college professor, Dan Klein, at Stanford.
'Yes, and' Principle
In the pyramid of improv principles, the very foundational blocks are two words: “Yes and”. “Yes, and” is the defining essence of improv. Without it, the scene would remain stagnant. In improv, we build our scenes off random suggestions from the audience. If the suggestion is “umbrella”, I may start off the scene by saying “Wow! It’s raining super hard today.” Now I have given my partner information about the world I have just established. My partner can now accept this world with rain in it (the “yes”) and add to it, or elevate it, (the “and”). They can say “Yeah it is (yes) - which is super weird since we live in a desert. (and)” We are now slowly building up an accepted reality where a story can unfold. This is the fun of improv; both the audience and the players are learning about and imagining this world as they go.
Now, imagine I had said “Wow! It’s raining super hard today” and my scene partner responded, “No it’s not”. By saying no to the reality I am offering, my partner breaks the illusion I offered, preventing progress in the scene and leaving no accepted world our characters can live in. By saying “Yes, and” we accept the reality or idea given to us by our partner or team and in turn, try to add and elevate this idea to make it better and move forward. “Yes, and” at its core, is the most accepting and collaborative mindset. “Yes, and” is a guiding principle that leads to success in the improv world, and the real world.
Social Impact & Improv
During my time at Keep The Change, I have definitely had “Yes, and” moments where I had to accept this new reality my work was presenting to me and try to elevate it in whatever ways I could think of. Funny enough, our team is fond of the phrase “Yes, and” as we use it in brainstorming sessions all the time as a response to someone’s input before adding our own. Not only do we use the phrase “Yes, and” in a literal sense; we also embody that mindset in our team culture.
Our mission at Keep The Change is to shape a more sustainable and equitable world by amplifying the potential of people and systems. Whether that be by improving access to education for Afghani women, building the infrastructure for Black generational wealth creation in Tulsa, OK, or establishing partnerships between household name brands to remove plastic from our oceans, our agency has worked with many different organizations; each with their own ideas on how to improve the world. If we had said “no,” more than “Yes, and”, we wouldn’t have pushed these projects forward in the way we did, or achieved the level of impact we were able to have in these communities. Just like accepting the world an improv partner may offer us, we say “Yes, and '', to discover what we can build in the world our clients are unfolding in front of us.
Never would I have thought that from my higher education, improv 101 principles would be the class I referenced the most in my professional career. In the short time I’ve spent in the world of social impact, I’ve seen how “Yes, and” can lead to greater outcomes than we first think are possible. As I dive deeper into my career, I’ve learned to say “Yes and” to whatever may come next.