These days, as UX professionals, we work in such collaborative environments. We follow agile or lean methods. So the strength of our work relies heavily on the strength of the team. As the UX people on any team, we play a critical role in bridging different sides of the story together. This role, by its very nature, makes us leaders, whether we want to be or not. That means people will look to us for guidance—and not just on the user experience. Therefore, we always need to remember that we have are responsible for setting and maintaining the tone and attitude of the team. If we want to be good leaders and set good examples as UX professionals and team players, we need to have a positive attitude—that is, a “Yes, and” kind of attitude. This kind of attitude is essential to improvisational theater, too.
What Is the “Yes, and” Attitude?
When improvisational theater is good, it is pure magic. This epitomizes the lesson that a product is only as strong as the team that has created it. And teams are strong because they have mastered the most basic and critical tenet of improvisational theater: the “Yes, and” philosophy. When we live up to this philosophy, no matter what challenge our work presents to us, we accept it—and to keep the work moving forward, we add to or change it. But we do not negate, reject, or disrespect what our work presents to us.
Notice that I did not say this means that we cannot say “No” to something. We certainly don’t want to create a culture of yes men. Instead, living the “Yes, and” philosophy means to think of how to take what we’re given and create a solution from it. If your instinct is to say “No,” instead, come up with an alternative and propose it. This is how you can keep the energy flowing and moving forward. As we gain forward momentum, that momentum is the thing that drives us toward achieving our goals. Don’t let the energy die, because once it does, your team will get stuck.
Think of positivity like this: If you and another actor began an improvisation and you said, “That’s a pretty bird on your shoulder,” and the response you got back was, “There is no bird on my shoulder,” where could you go? The momentum would essentially grind to a halt—not to mention that there is a serious risk that this kind of response would damage the relationship’s trust and collaboration. The next time you worked together, you might fear putting forward the first idea, which would stop you from participating. It’s the same in a design collaboration. What a shame it would be for the team to lose out on possibly great ideas and insights! Especially if this feeling spread, and you had a team on which no one wanted to share ideas.
Creating a “Yes, and” Attitude
There is a distinctly different kind of power attached to a “No” versus a “Yes.” “Yes” builds camaraderie, generates energy, drives momentum, and stimulates creativity. On the other hand, “No” breeds discontent and frustration and impedes a team’s coming up with creative solutions and achieving true collaboration. A “No” attitude can even instill a desire for revenge the next time around, in a participant who felt blocked by someone else.
No team that cultivates a “No” culture can have the successful, innovative outcomes they really want. I’ve seen negative attitudes tear teams apart. Instead, the kind of power that you want is that which instills a desire to see everyone succeed—where everyone feels safe sharing ideas and does not fear the shame of failure. This is the power of “Yes!”
Each of you should feel that the “Yes” attitude has to start with you. It is key that you set an example for the behavior that you expect from others. As I said earlier, your team will look to you, as a UX professional, to help set this tone.