Creative collaboration is a part of the day-to-day within the walls of Proof. Reviewing designs, discussing user experience, brainstorming copy, bouncing around ideas…it’s what we do.
Accepting ideas as they come in, and building upon them, is the mark of successful collaboration. It’s easy to be critical, to break ideas down and to offer up your perspective on how you see it being better. But it’s much more helpful to approach collaboration with a “Yes, and” model – one that takes the idea presented and builds on it, rather than breaks it down or shifts its direction.
Frank Chimero talks about the idea of “Yes, and…” as it’s used in improvisation and jazz music in his book, The Shape of Design:
The “and” part of the “Yes, and…” maxim dictates that improvising is an additive process that builds itself up with each choice like a snowball rolling downhill. The back-and-forth dialog that happens from these contributions in jazz and improvisational theater resembles the structure of renga. The renga master Basho described the spirit of collaborative poetry as transformation: the poem achieves a newness when it changes hands, has new words added, and cumulatively builds up. That newness only worked, in Basho’s words, by “refraining from stepping back.” To steal from our old analogy of stepping back from the easel as a way to analyze the work, judgment is an important part of the creative process, but when improvising, self-criticism and evaluation from others must be avoided in order to let ideas develop from their delicate state. Criticism has a crucial role in the creative process, but its rigor should match the heartiness of the ideas, which become stronger as they develop. The more real an idea becomes, the less suspension of disbelief is required, and the more criticism it should withstand. But all ideas, both good and bad, start young and fragile.
We collectively are quick to judge ideas presented to us. We put those ideas through our own personal “this is how I would’ve done it” filter. At Proof, we push ourselves to move away from that natural instinct and practice a philosophy where no idea is a bad one, and every idea has possibility.
Approach collaboration through the lens of optimism. Next time you find yourself being presented with an idea, pause, and find a way to use “Yes, and…” to make that idea even better. The idea, like Basho’s reference to the poem, achieves newness and gets better as it changes hands and cumulatively builds up.