Why Does Hyatt Embrace Improv Comedy’s Core Philosophy?
If you come into my office space in Chicago, you’ll see a bright red shirt hanging on the wall with a bold caption that reads: YES AND.
The shirt is from the Chicago comedy club Second City, where great performers such as Tina Fey, Bill Murray, and Stephen Colbert started their careers. It’s a constant reminder to colleagues and me to practice the fundamental improvisation technique of being open, listening, and building on each other’s ideas.
For years, academics and business professionals have highlighted the benefits of using the teachings of improv comedy and with good reason: improv is actually based on a discipline and specific practices that create something new and great that didn’t exist before, to sense an audience’s reaction, and to think on our feet and adapt when a conversation takes an unexpected turn. If you look deeper, you will find that improv comedy is one of the greatest (and hardest) team sports in the world. At its core, improv is an art and a discipline where the troupe’s success is entirely dependent on trusting one another–members must trust one another to build the scene (the subject of which is often shouted out by a member of the audience to get things started) and let the group’s creativity take it into places even they never initially imagined. And while it may sounds trivial, this is all built around one simple phrase: Yes, and . . .
When I apply this mindset and use these two powerful words, I am open and I listen to my colleagues (rather than bringing my own agenda), I am ready for unexpected twists and turns, and I build on and shape something new together with my teammates.
I came to Hyatt a little over two years ago to help lead our company and our colleagues around the world on a journey of real-time innovation in our hotels and in our corporate/region functions. And in order to be successful, we need to let go of how we do some things. We’ve embraced Hyatt Thinking—a different way of approaching how we solve challenges and take on emerging opportunities. And we do it together as colleagues.
So how does Hyatt Thinking connect to the mantra of improv comedy? In order to truly change the conversation and change the experience for our guests and ourselves, we need to be open to change ourselves. We’ve all been in situations where it’s easier to point out why something won’t work rather than to actually be open to a possibility that a colleague suggests and build on it. That’s when–and why–the YES, AND . . . practice works so well. When discussing new ideas or building on previous efforts, we make a conscious effort to use yes, and. . . rather than yes, but . . . It may only be one word change AND I’ve found that it makes a tremendous difference in the mood of the room and people’s willingness to eagerly explore innovation and share some truly great ideas. Many of you have discovered the same.
Of course, some comedy sketches bomb. Don’t work. Fail miserably. And in the Hyatt Thinking approach, we use prototyping to sort out concepts that can work and those that can’t. And for those that don’t work, we learn from them and apply this insight to the next new thing we try (just like improv teams who are continuously assessing what worked and what didn’t).
So, instead of saying “Yes, but let me play the devil’s advocate here” or “Yes, but we tried that before and it didn’t work,” try “Yes, and we’d have to learn how to get others to try this new way of working” or “Yes, and we’d have to learn more about the economics to make this approach viable.”
I encourage each of you to try an experiment this week and use YES, AND . . . when listening to family members, friends, and colleagues. I’m eager to see how it changes the conversation, the level of trust and energy, and the progress you make!