Chris Grabenstein and Effective Collaboration

Thanks to a generous Scholastic offer, I recently observed Chris Grabenstein promoting his 2016 publication of Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics. He reminded me of an effective librarian: he knew how to captivate an audience, he knew how to keep the action moving forward, and he knew about important things going on in the world. His background in improvisational comedy (improv) gave him the perfect platform to remind folks in the audience what successful collaboration looks like. It’s what improv folks call the “Yes, and…” 

According to Grabenstein and other improv coaches/librarians like Tony Stamatoplos, the “yes, and…” attitude is critical to collaborative success. How does it work in improv? While comedians perform with others on the stage, ideas and narratives are presented. There are a variety of responses from which their collaborators may choose. After learning from Grabenstein, Stamatoplos, and a six-week improv course, I frame those collaborative responses in four ways:

(1) no, and… (a “stop” to the momentum started by another with a splash of judgment or control issues);
(2) no, but… (a “stop” to the momentum started by another with a hint of a peace offering);
(3) yes, but… (a “false start” in the momentum started by another with a fragrance of fear);
(4) and yes, and… (an open-minded and risky continuance of the momentum started by another).

6M0A8213According to Grabenstein et al, the best answer to move improv action forward is “yes, and…” This response implies a humble acknowledgement and acceptance for what has been presented by colleagues; in addition, it involves a wholehearted willingness to add to the idea or project (and make it stronger). At the same time, “yes, and…” involves risk. It means investing in ideas and projects that another person pitched, even when they might not be fully understood or even practical in their current state. These moments require delicate “…and-ing,” a skill that moves the momentum and ideas forward without isolating or offending the individual who initially pitched the idea. This involves adding to, refining, and editing the co-constructed ideas. Trust has to be present to move the action forward, and trust has to be maintained until the curtain closes. Ultimately, we have to leave our pride backstage, as we may never get the applause or standing ovation for “and-ing…” the idea to its greatest potential and best rendition.

As I think about my philosophy of librarianship, I consider myself a “yes, and…” librarian. Since Grabenstein’s author talk, though, I’ve been more conscious of making sure my philosophy aligns with my actual practice. How about you? What is your typical response to ideas that are presented to you?

Also, I’ve been pondering this “yes… and” practice, as I seek out potential collaborative partners. The people who energize me, who stretch me, who push me to my best professional practice and happiest moments at work, are “yes, and…” educators (and students! and administrators!). When I have an innovative idea that is so far outside the box that I’m pretty sure it will frighten people (or at the very least make them uneasy), I go to my “yes, and…” colleagues and administrators for feedback. They help me dream big, believe in possibilities, and also shape progressive ideas for real audiences in real libraries and classrooms. Because I aim to collaborate with all faculty in my place of work, I have to create an environment that is safe for people who are unfamiliar with “yes, and…” collaboration. I hope to coach others to see the value in and ultimately invest in this collaborative practice.


Another lesson I’ve learned: seek out “yes, and…” employers. When I work for employers who need an old-school librarian, the “yes, and…” practice is more challenging. In fact, there has been a time or two that my “yes, and…” evolved into a Yes, I see your desire for a librarian who just walked out of a 1920s movie, and…I need to start looking for a new employer. We can seek out employers who invite, welcome, and expect our “yes, and…” contributions; if they do not, the most patient of librarians educate our administrators to recognize how our “yes, and…” contributions impact student learning and pedagogical innovation. If you don’t see much “Yes, and…” action from your administrators, keep the faith. “Yes, and…” employers are out there, and they are seeking “yes, and…” librarians!

In what ways to do you see “Yes, and…” playing out in your professional practice? Please share with us your success stories using this important practice in improv comedy.

6M0A8219For more information on Chris Grabenstein’s presentation, see:

For more information on “Yes, and…” professional development for librarians, teachers, and academics utilizing improv comedy techniques, contact Tony Stamatoplos (stamatoplos[at] or check out your local comedy club. Many local clubs offer stand-up improv lessons (and welcome librarians!) like the one in my hometown that I strongly recommend:

Very truly yours,


All photos were taken by Joshua Aromin and used with his permission.

Author: Julie Marie Frye

Categories: Blog Topics, Professional Development

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