There’s a technique in improvisational comedy called the “Yes And.” The “Yes And” is a principle that states that if two people are in a sketch, each line they create should build the sketch up, not block its progress. Here’s how Wikipedia defines it:
“In order for an improvised scene to be successful, the improvisers involved must work together responsively to define the parameters and action of the scene, in a process of co-creation. With each spoken word or action in the scene, an improviser makes an offer, meaning that he or she defines some element of the reality of the scene. This might include giving another character a name, identifying a relationship, location, or using mime to define the physical environment. These activities are also known as endowment. It is the responsibility of the other improvisers to accept the offers that their fellow performers make; to not do so is known as blocking, negation, or denial, which usually prevents the scene from developing. Some performers may deliberately block (or otherwise break out of character) for comedic effect—this is known as gagging – but this generally prevents the scene from advancing and is frowned upon by many improvisers. Accepting an offer is usually accompanied by adding a new offer, often building on the earlier one; this is a process improvisers refer to as ”Yes, And…” and is considered the cornerstone of improvisational technique. Every new piece of information added helps the improvisers to refine their characters and progress the action of the scene.”
And there’s a similarly familiar concept in brainstorming that states that “There are no bad ideas.”
Social media is neither of these things, and we who work and think about it do ourselves a disservice when we pretend otherwise.
At this point, you’re likely asking “What in God’s name are you talking about, LeDrew?” Fair enough. There have been enough incidents in within earshot of me recently where criticism is construed as insult very quickly. There was the Gini Dietrich-G+ contretemps. Then there was the Neicole Crepeau-Copyblogger kerfuffle. Now there’s the Olivier Blanchard-Social Media Club
shitstorm, er, foofaraw. I could go on a lot longer, but you get the idea. I’ve heard it said that some of my book reviews here and on For Immediate Release have raised hackles (although I’ve never been contacted by anyone about them to complain.)
I am partial to the idea of debate. In fact, I love it. My partner and I met at a debating society meeting in university. She claims that the relationship won’t end until one of us acknowledges defeat. She could be right.
But I am getting the feeling that debate, criticism, and argument are becoming the “fights that dare not speak their name” in the world of social media. And that feeling was strong enough that I horned in on a BlogTalkRadio show hosted by Joe Hackman and featuring the aforementioned Gini and all-round pot-stirrer Danny Brown last week called “If you’re not making enemies, are you really doing it wrong?” to blather about debate for a while, until everyone got bored of me.
What does all this come down to? What am I saying? Here’s my manifesto:
- You are not your ideas. If people criticize your blog post, program, sales offering, etc. — they aren’t by definition criticizing you.
- If your ideas are challenged, don’t shut down the challenger, and if you are the lucky person who has fans and supporters, police them.
- If your ideas are so delicate and filigreed that the merest critique will cause them to crumple into a 52 pickup… maybe you need to have some better ideas.
If we’re going to tell ourselves — let alone our employers or our clients — that social media is robust, that it makes sense, that it’s worth going into, we bloody well better be able to defend our ideas amongst ourselves. Because if we can’t convince our comrades in arms, how are we going to convince the CAs, the lawyers, and the CEOs?
There might not be any bad ideas in a brainstorm. But there are in real life. And we need to do to put those bad ideas out of our misery. We need strong ideas. Weak ones won’t even support… a house of cards.