Say Yes

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Updated November 3, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

If you go to an improv comedy class, you’ll see that participants are encouraged to agree to and build upon everybody else’s ideas. Comedian, filmmaker, writer Tina Fey calls this the “Rule of Agreement” in her memoir Bossypants, describing it as a reminder to:

“Respect what your partner has created” and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.

So try saying yes to every prompt or idea from others, at least once. If the need arises, you are free to make modifications and to add an element of your own to the prompt. I would be extremely happy to hear that you’d augmented one of these prompts to fit you better.

When you say yes, you train your brain to let go of your preferences and expectations, and to let go of them to work with whatever’s in front of you.

The other benefit to saying yes is that it opens your mind up to chaotic, creative, energy. If you feel like you don’t have this—like you’re not creative, or you’re better at executing other people’s ideas, or that your work sucks—you’ll need to trust me on this for now. The energy may simply be dormant or latent, waiting for you to tap into it.

Chaotic energy is incredibly valuable. You could consider it to be the raw material of all creative work. One of the best explanations of this comes from Professor Betty Flowers’s response to her students’ woes of getting started writing, which I learned from my editor on this book, Rachel Jepsen. Flowers writes:

What happens when you get stuck is that two competing energies are locked horn to horn, pushing against each other. One is the energy of what I’ll call your “madman.” He is full of ideas, writes crazily and perhaps rather sloppily, gets carried away by enthusiasm or anger, and if really let loose, could turn out ten pages an hour.

The second is a kind of critical energy—what I’ll call the “judge.” He’s been educated and knows a sentence fragment when he sees one. He peers over your shoulder and says, “That’s trash!” with such authority that the madman loses his crazy confidence and shrivels up. You know the judge is right—after all, he speaks with the voice of your most imperious English teacher. But for all his sharpness of eye, he can’t create anything.

Flowers so well articulates the innate duality of the madman and the judge that exists in all forms of creative work, between making and releasing, recording and editing, working and reworking, programming and debugging, doodling and drawing.

When each of us grows up, we learn to seek validation, approvals, and reviews for our work. We grow to depend on the critical energy from the judge, at the cost of starving the madman of the very crucial, chaotic, energy.

It’s later in the book—when you’re well used to agreeing with where your inner chaotic energy is taking you, that you’ll reconnect with your opinions, taste, and discernment. As Rachel Jepsen writes, “In order to get to unity you have to begin with chaos.”

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