Archive for Education

“Yes, And” – The Power to Ignite Groups and Leaders | Guest blog by Kelly Leonard from The Second City

Yes and Available Today

Rule number one in improvisation is that when you are tasked as a group to make something out of nothing, you can’t start with the word “no.” You also can’t simply say “yes.” To build something original as a team, you must begin with “Yes, And.”


Because great original work isn’t easy. In fact, it most often emanates from some discomfort. This can be a real physical discomfort that pushes us to innovate a better wine bottle opener or more comfortable mattress; or it can be a societal discomfort, how do we feed more people or how to we provide a better education for those without access to well equipped or well staffed schools.

These are all real world, tactical issues. But the fact is, most working human beings are part of teams and groups that are also tasked with some level of original thinking. New slogans, new software, new processes or new methods of employee engagement.

A “Yes, And” approach does a few things.

  • It speaks to an individual orientation of not only accepting someone else’s idea, but building on that idea – even if it might seem a bit crazy.
  • It also speaks to a group orientation, with broad participation and increased value on every contribution.
With those two orientations in place, it creates a greater abundance of ideas. With more ideas to choose from and positive reinforcement for all ideas – you can get to the best ideas more quickly and without shutting people out of the process.

In some ways, “Yes, And” makes “No” a whole lot easier.

Mind Map Team - IllustrationThe fact is, people are not practiced at working well in groups. Except for the occasional team building workshop, there is no group “warm up,” no group “practice” before we set off on our collective working day. This would seem unfathomable in sports. No team practice? You won’t win.

At Second City, we call our teams “ensembles.” And there’s a reason for this. The ensemble is an orientation, a guiding practice, a methodology that various individuals move in and out of all the time. Indeed, that means the ensemble changes – sometimes dramatically so – with each addition and subtraction. But the same “Yes, And” principles apply.

Here’s another thing about ensembles. We’ve all heard the adage that “we’re only as good as our weakest member.” We don’t buy that. We offer, instead, that “an ensemble is only as good as it’s ability to compensate for its weakest member.” In our world, the onus isn’t put back on the individual, it’s put back on the group. Because at any given time one of us will be the weakest member. And it’s at those crucial moments that great ensembles reveal themselves.

And what about leaders?

We have some thoughts on that as well. We were leading a workshop for The Spertus Institute in Chicago, covering some basic improv exercises. We began playing the game “Follow the Follower,” which is a silent game in which an individual is picked to be leader, and the rest of the group has to imitate their movements until the individual – in silence – successfully hands off leadership to another. The rest of the players need to keep keenly aware to recognize the new leader and begin following their lead.

Dr. Hal Lewis, who runs the center, pulled me aside and said, “You know you’re teaching Peter Drucker’s theories on management. This is all about a flat organizational structure.” I nodded in agreement and then went home and looked-up Peter Drucker. Hal was right.

There’s a great improv phrase, “All of us are better than one of us.” Great leaders know how to lead and how to follow. In Sydney Finkelstein’s terrific book, “SuperBosses,” he calls this kind of leadership, “hands on delegation.” Leadership operates in a dynamic that is decidedly non hierarchical in nature. Leadership is a practice, not a position. We’ve all seen amazing leaders who are nowhere near the top of the corporate food chain. Just as we have seen singularly terrible leaders who are running the show.

Our lab for understanding this work is about 60 years old. We’ve been actively beta-testing these theories in our classrooms and on our stages for decades. Just recently, we made the initiative to move from anecdote to actual. We are teaming with the Center for Decision Research (CDR) at the Booth School to test out our improvisational theories and practices with a broad swath of scientists and researchers.

I really like the language that we put in our proposal with the CDR: “This research initiative examines improvisation in a more expansive sense: as an elemental feature of human experience in an inescapably dynamic and social world…In essence, we can make it possible for people to practice being unpracticed, and thus to encounter life’s many such moments with greater courage, resilience, and success.”

Yes, And.



Editor’s note: Kelly Leonard has served in executive creative roles at The Second City in Chicago for nearly three decades. He has developed productions with such talent as Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Keegan Michael Key, Amy Poehler, Seth Meyers, Steve Carell and more.

His book, “Yes, And: Lessons from The Second City” – about the seven elements used in improvisation and how these elements can be used in business to improve creativity and collaboration – was released by Harpercollins in 2015.

Kelly has presented at The Aspen Ideas Festival, TEDxBroadway, Chicago Ideas Week and The Wharton School of Business. He currently hosts the podcast, “Getting to Yes, And” which has featured conversations with Dan Pink, Christie Hefner, Mike Birbiglia and more.

He agreed to write a guest blog for Janus Dialogs for which he has our enduring gratitude.





Areas of Agreement

WP_20140703_14_12_09_Raw (2)

Unity and alignment are powerful forces, and when they can be harnessed they can drive great accomplishment.

I think about a personal collection I am very proud of, a set of posters from the Second World War, posters made by, in part, my grandfather who was the creative lead of the Sheldon-Claire Agency at that time. They were made to encourage participation in the war effort, and each instills an emotional connection, elicits a personal commitment, and builds energy to achieve the goals of the times.

We are not at war, and the stakes are not as high.

Yet, despite being 70 years old and related to a heavy topic, the posters used techniques similar to what we use today in modern marketing. For instance, they are short and sharable (almost tweet-able), use engaging story-telling methods, and each has compelling imagery to resonate with the audience.

WP_20140703_14_12_42_Raw (3)One series is entirely devoted to “This is America…Keep It Free.” These purposeful images and messages created a vision of what was at stake, clearly defining the problem and how to solve it.








WP_20140703_14_11_56_Raw (2)Another “The American Way Works” reminded the reader of what it was that made America unique.









WP_20140703_14_12_04_Raw (2)Another, with a more direct call to action, showed the impact and significance of the reader’s work as they “Produce for Victory”.









Most important, all focus around “areas of agreement” that everyone – from labor to management, men and women, different ages, races, and backgrounds – could identify and agree with. This was very intentional; developed to make everyone feel part of the effort; to represent the collective that America is; and start from an undeniable place of unquestioned agreement.

A common ground was important then, and it is important today. As any team works to deliver a multi-faceted, multi-objective, and multi-stakeholder experience, there will be times where not all agree on all aspects of the undertaking. But there will always be “areas of agreement” from which they can work.

Look for, develop, and start from these “areas of agreement”. It is from these that conversation, consensus, and cooperation can grow; that alignment can be realized; and impactful experience marketing achieved.

Think Global, Act Local, Be Personal



The world is not only getting smaller, it’s getting more personal.

Look to retail – consumers are taking a more pro-active role than ever before. “Cash Mobs” are the latest intersection of local, personal, social, and retail. This twist on “flash mobs” brings together a group to one store to support the community by buying local.

Activities like this are as much about highlighting and activating the buyer’s power in the transaction as they are about supporting local merchants.

Yet despite the overwhelming pressures on physical retail, some major brands such as Tiffany, Apple, Lululemon Athletica, and Microsoft are expanding their physical retail networks with great results. How are they succeeding in the environment of empowered buyers where organizations such as Best Buy are not? How are they viewed as “local” while being part of a global network?

The book The Experience Economy laid this out years ago: the differentiators of esthetics, education, escapism, and entertainment can transform a transactional retail environment into a desired experience.

These differentiators need to be focused on the individual. Vocational training, once thought for “dumb kids or the supposed misfits” is experiencing a revival. Focusing on something of personal interest, and with a hands on approach, can increase interest and therefore attention.

SAP began moving from SAP centric presentations to audience centric conversations several years ago at its SAPPHIRE NOW program. The micro forums (unstructured 30 minute conversations around one topic with no slides or presenter) have quickly become as popular as the theater sessions due to their personal relevance and interaction.

Successful retailers focus on the individual with personal shoppers, training, and experiences at – and away from – the store. And it doesn’t hurt that the products themselves are very personal, from “sleep number beds” at Select Comfort stores, to clothing, jewelry, and computers.

Another significant element of these retail experiences/outlets is the staff. They are the brand – not the retail distributors’ brand, but the product brand. Their excitement, the personal interaction, and the relationship translates back to the product. An informed, exciting, and energetic Apple or Tiffany or Lululemon retail employee makes the product exciting and desirable.

It is not surprising then to see some corporate retail outlets exceeding $1,000/sq. ft. in annual sales while larger retailers such as Wal-Mart average a few hundred.

Proprietary experiences and events are like these corporate retail outlets. They offer the opportunity for distinctly different, and uniquely managed experiences that a 3rd party tradeshow or “big box” event doesn’t.

Equally important, they allow for personal experiences between the product and the consumer or buyer and an immersive brand environment and experience. Apple has over 1,000,000 visitors each day at their stores – think of this as 1,000,000 attendees each day at their experience marketing events.

Does your experience marketing offer the right level of personalization and draw this level of engagement? Could it?


Note: As always, the desire of Janus Dialogs is not to adjudicate the appropriateness of any trend, but to bring it to the forefront for consideration by the caretakers for the shared moments in time we call experience marketing.



Learning in the (Right) Moment | Timing and Context in Comedy and Content


One of the cores of comedy is timing.

(Pause, wait for it…)

This is true for content and learning as well. (Not a great punch line was it?)

For the first several minutes of the movie “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) pesters George (Richard Burton) with the question “’What a dump!’ Who says that?” Lacking the answer, they go back and forth building tension and anger. George lacked the information to answer the question, and the means to get to it instantly.

Today, George would have pulled out his smartphone, pressed a few keys and answered:

“Bette Davis in Beyond the Forest. Released in 1949, the film tells the story of Rosa Moline, a neglected wife of a small-town Wisconsin doctor. She grows bored and becomes infatuated with a visiting Chicago businessman. She extorts money from her husband’s patients and uses the cash to flee to Chicago, but the businessman does not welcome her. She returns home and becomes pregnant by her husband. The businessman has a change of heart and follows her to Wisconsin. He wants her back, but not her baby, so she attempts to abort by throwing herself down a hill and gets peritonitis, dying in what Bette Davis called ‘the longest death scene ever seen on the screen.’”

Admittedly, such a complete response may have upset Martha nonetheless – another example of comic timing gone wrong.

The (DIKW) Hierarchy represents the relationship between Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom or Intelligence. Timing is one ingredient in the move from one level to another – the association between the need and the data. Something may be data at one moment (the name of the movie) and information another (answering the question).

Information at our fingertips certainly changes much, and settles many discussions, but one of its greatest impacts is allowing the alignment of information and need. It greatly increases the value and reach of shared knowledge and collective intelligence, and reduces the need to be knowledgeable, or even informed, in advance of the need.

We are no longer left to our own knowledge to answer the questions we face. We no longer need to memorize the side effects of drugs, the timing of a 1964 Corvette engine, or how to add a sound to the roll over of a button when programming a website. In fact, we no longer need to “learn” these details at all – we can look them up as needed.

Context is another ingredient in the move from Data to Wisdom on the DIKW Hierarchy. For example, data (32) in context (32 degrees Fahrenheit) is information. Information in context (freezing point of water is 32 degrees) is knowledge.

Few would ever have needed to know how to calculate the time on Mars, or considered it part of their formal education. Yet now there is an app for that and with the Curiosity Mission (@MarsCuriosity), more contexts for this knowledge then ever.

Before so much content, data, and information were available at your fingertips (from “official” and user generated sources), you were expected to become knowledgeable (and intelligent) by learning and remembering – at schools, workshops, seminars, continuing educations, etc.

Today, is there still a need for formal education at all, much less for the content coming from events? Maybe we no longer need to waste formative years and hours at conferences learning if everything will be available to us when we need it. Why should I attend a session to hear what I can get when and where I want it?

Given the continued importance of “content” at events (over 95% saying “very” or “its the reason they come” in the short survey done for the Event Marketer Summit) how does this change the content mix and alignment at your program? How do you ensure that your program’s content is more than a modern game of trivial pursuit?

One downside of “available at your fingertips” knowledge is the threat of becoming researchers instead of scholars. Simply getting the information at the time and in the context needed does not mean comprehension, understanding, or seeing the connections to other knowledge. Building this intelligence seems an important place to focus for both formal and program based content. [Knowledge and Intelligence are indeed different – see here]

T.S. Eliot wrote:

“Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

In an article in the New York Times Sunday Review, Andrew Hacker – seemingly from the edges of conventional wisdom – proposes one approach when he asks “Is Algebra Necessary?”

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.”

And this is where the birth of a Janus Moment occurs – a new thought that brings a new view to the question. Hacker proposes:

“I hope that mathematics departments can also create courses in the history and philosophy of their discipline, as well as its applications in early cultures. Why not mathematics in art and music — even poetry — along with its role in assorted sciences?”

Can we move teaching to a time and context where it is needed, desired, more easily understood? Would mathematics in context with history, economics, arts, manufacturing, etc. increase our knowledge and possibly intelligence? Internships, apprenticeships, and on the job training certainly show a history of success.

For marketers, the challenge is much the same – how, in an age of instantly available data, information, and knowledge, will you deliver relevant information and knowledge where and when desired by the learner, not the teacher?

Note: As always, the desire of Janus Dialogs is not to adjudicate the appropriateness of any trend, but to bring it to the forefront for consideration by the caretakers for the shared moments in time we call experience marketing.



Too Dumb, too Smart, or Just Out of Alignment?

It would be nice to think that as a species we are forever improving. Stronger, faster, smarter. But what if we aren’t? What if we have passed our evolutionary mental zenith and are now on the down side?

Matt Ridley explored this for The Wall Street Journal concluding:

’Has brain size stopped increasing?’ For a process that takes millions of years, any answer about a particular instant in time is close to meaningless. Nonetheless, the short answer is probably ‘yes.’”

“This neither worries nor surprises me. We ceased relying upon individual brain power tens of thousands of years ago. Our civilization now gets all its inventive and creative power from the linking of brains into networks. Our future depends on being clever not individually, but collectively.”

Immediately concerning is the belief that less clever people will collectively drive the inventive and creative future of our civilization. This “yes, we are losing money on each item, but we will make up for it in volume” argument is in and of itself proof of our decline.

The SunLight Foundation looked at one such collective – the United States Congress – and found that based on an analysis of the congressional records, our elected officials now speak almost a full grade level lower than just seven years ago.

The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution and Declaration of Independence at above a grade 15 level. They were admittedly well educated compared to the average person at the time.

Today, Congress is speaking at a 10th grade level and the average American reads at between an 8th and 9th grade level. So, are our leaders getting dumber or, as a more pleasant alternate theory, is congress simply communicating more effectively?

Like communicating and listening, teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin. If the level of teaching greatly exceeds the ability or desire to learn, there is likely to be no learning at all. If it falls short of ability or desire, the same outcome occurs.

Already recognized as one of the more important aspects of any experience marketing, it is more and more important that your content align to your audiences’ needs and desires at the time they are consuming it.

How are you ensuring you are not at too high a level for the audience who wants 8th grade simplicity, or too low a level for the audience who wants advanced knowledge? As the caretaker, this audience alignment is crucial.

Knowledge and Intelligence

Education has changed greatly since the birth of the three R’s in 1825. In fact, so much so that some have proposed they be changed from Reading Writing and Arithmetic to Relating, Representing, and Reasoning. (No comment on the “trickery” of the original 3 R’s that has lead a few to believe them to be Reading, Riting, and Rithmatic.)

Yet more than reflecting a change in education, this proposed change mirrors the distinctions between Knowledge and Intelligence. The knowledge to read, write, and calculate arithmetic is not an alternative to the intelligence to relate, represent, and reason. They are complementary.

Knowledge has been defined as a familiarity with something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education.

Intelligence as “abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, reasoning, learning, having emotional knowledge, retaining, planning, and problem solving”

Are your content and message the right balance of practical and theory? How are you aligning these to your attendees’ needs and desires?


Pull Learning versus Push Teaching

It is always easier to pull a string than to push it. You have more control over direction, speed, and outcome. The same is true of marketing and learning.

Social, technical, economic, and political changes are impacting education and bringing new and exciting alternatives to traditional approaches. How, when, and why people learn is changing. There is a shift away from the classroom and campus (read as keynote/breakouts and on-site) and towards Pull Learning – accessing knowledge when and how desired by the learner.

  • Using aspects of open source technology, crowd sourcing, peer-to-peer interactions, social and rich media, and online technology to reach and engage with tens of thousand, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) are to the universities of the world what hybrid and online events are to marketing.
  • Decoded offers a workshop promising to teach anyone to code computers or web sites in one-day.
  • MIT and Harvard are offering inexpensive or free content via the edX platform.
  • offers a universe of user-generated print and video content on all things computing and software from self (and community) proclaimed subject matter experts for a monthly subscription.
  • Peer to peer learning (called unconferences or open forums at events) is also growing in popularity.

Is your content strategy push teaching or pull learning? Can it be accessed when and where desired? Can you teach a new skill in one any day?

Note: As always, the desire of Janus Dialogs is not to adjudicate the appropriateness of any trend, but to bring it to the forefront for consideration by the caretakers for the shared moments in time we call experience marketing.