FCNY18 & The Campus Visit: Upright Citizens Brigade

Render followers know we're fans of the Fast Company Innovation Festival. This past October, Render's Brittney Joyce and Dani Napier spent a week in NYC traversing the city to pick up lessons from the world's most innovative brands.

A little humor can go a long way in diffusing a difficult situation. Improv is an untapped training tool to help tour guides learn to think fast on their feet and tackle inappropriate questions with a bit of lightheartedness.

When we saw that the Upright Citizens Brigade was hosting an improv class as part of FCNY18, we took a deep breath and signed up. Oof. This is very far outside of our comfort zone. Here’s what we did/learned:

  1. We did an improv exercise that started with “No, but…” in which your partner gives you a scenario (ours was we were hosting a Super Bowl party in which we debated on how to host the party and whether we should host it at all). This played out like:

    • “We could have everyone bring their own dish like a potluck!”

    • “No because we could end up with 20 bags of chips and nothing else, but we could order pizza instead.”

    • “No because not everyone likes pizza, but we could order tacos…”

  2. The next level of this exercise was “Yes, but…” Same scenario:

    • “We could have everyone bring their own dish like a potluck!”

    • “Yes, but we’d have to create and manage a sign-up list.”

    • “Yes, but we’d have to create categories for food and only put a few slots for each item.”

  3. Next level was “Yes, and…” Same scenario:

    • “We could have everyone bring their own dish like a potluck!”

    • “Yes, and we’ll create a sign-up list with slots for each dish or item!”

    • “Yes, and we’ll also order a pizza or other big dish just as a backup!”

See how things tend to flow much easier in the “Yes, and"…” scenario? When you use “but…,” it backs you and the other person into a defensive tons and stance. It invites someone to argue with you.

When parents ask a difficult question of a tour guide, we’d invite them to try “Yes, and…” instead of “No, but…” or “Yes, but…” For example, let’s take the most frequently asked question we hear:

“Is campus safe?”

“No, but…”: “Our campus is patrolled by three security forces: local police, blah blah, script, script…”

  • This is the “I don’t really know how to answer this question, BUT I do know stats and script! This response doesn’t connect nor does it answer the question. It invites argument which is why we usually hear this response followed with “Ok, but do YOU feel safe?”

“Yes, but…”: “Our campus is patrolled by three security forces blah blah blah, but I’ve never had to use any of those services..”

  • Again, translating this to: “I think campus is safe based on my experience, but I know my experience isn’t every student’s experience.”

“Yes, and…”: “I know that’s a big concern for parents these days. From my perspective, here’s what safety is like on campus, and I can introduce you to other guides so you can get different perspectives…”

  • Translation: “I know you’re concerned, I can only offer my point of view, and you’ll want to get multiple perspectives.”

TL;DR: Improv isn’t about teaching tour guides to be comedians; it can be a really useful tool in tackling difficult questions.

More from Fast Company & UCB: Leadership Lessons from Improv & Customer Service & Improv

More on “Yes, and…”: Second City’s Guide to Creativity and Collaboration