Nsight Barbara Nelsen on the business of science.

Filed under Collaboration, Strategic partnership, Strategy, Life science

Say Yes And! How the Rules of Improv Improve Your Success in Business


2015 has proven a bigger year than the last for IPOs, M&As, and strategic partnerships.  There’re only 16 weeks (really 14) left in this year to get your key deal done.  For our firm, results for our clients is critical.  and results often means key licensing deals, strategic partnerships, and collaborations. We have taken the Rules of Improv to heart to improve our success and that of our clients. Here are the three rules we have found most useful.

The primary rule of improve is to “Say “Yes, and!” For a story to be built, the players have to agree to the basic situation and set-up. By saying yes, we begin the collaborative process from the start. Here are some basics of Improv that will help your collaborative business endeavors.

1. Listen.

Improv is a collaborative art by nature. Without your partners, and without being willing to listen to their contributions, you don’t have a scene. You have a monologue. The novelty of watching two people work together is to create a believable reality onstage. In order to do this, active listening is necessary. Your partner gives you a gift with everything they say.

Take that gift by listening to it, and then do as much as you can with it.

Business is a collaborative activity by necessity. Without potential partners, and without being willing to listen to what they can contribute, you don’t have an opportunity. Right now we are working with a client on a key strategic partnership that will provide significant market expansion opportunities for them. This first phase of partnering discussions has been one of active listening and dialogue to understand the goals, objectives of your partner.

2. Say Yes.

This goes along with the idea that your partner is giving you “gifts”. It’s important to never write off anything your partner gives you, because it brings your scene (the discussion) to a halt. The opposite of saying yes is blocking. Blocking is rejecting information or ideas offered by another player. Blocking is the most effective way to shut down the discussion. Don’t block early. Often new information comes up in the discussion that had not been shared earlier. Try the following : Say “Yes And…” add more information. State what you need or want to make this a successful relationship. My friend Vin Miles says to focus on the two items that are key to making the partnership fulfill your top priorities. Go ahead and share why. Maybe there are alternatives you have not considered because you do not know all the options. If they can’t meet your top two priorities then walk away. But until then saying Yes And keep the discussion going.

3. Commit

In Improv, the idea is to be able to sell new realities to an audience. But first you need to sell it to yourself! If you have decided to be a dog in your scene, it won’t do to just crawl on your hands and knees and expect people to believe it. Take up mannerisms. While other people talk, scratch at your ears. Sniff some fire hydrants. If you commit, the audience ( the potential partner, licensee, or investor) will, too.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 5.58.22 PMSaying Yes And! can work to ink the key partnership too. Getting to terms that are a win-win are easier if you engage in active listening. Say Yes. Ask for more information. Agree on key requirements for each party to be successful. Remember, in Improv , and in business there are no mistakes, only opportunities.


Blog by @Barbara Nelsen.  Special thanks to Leah Kinney, Actor, Comedian, and Playwright for providing the Rules of Improv and additional context for this blog.



Opportunities to improve your communication through Improv training are available through many venues including Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis, ImprovBoston in Boston, and specifically for scientists, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook.