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“Yes, And…” – How Improv Improves Machine Learning

People often have mixed feelings when they hear the words “Improv Comedy.” Some know the pleasure of hearing comedic masters create hilarious worlds from the most mundane of suggestions, while others cringe as they recall trying to support a friend by attending their — incredibly uncomfortable and decidedly unfunny — improv class graduation performance.

New York’s famed Upright Citizens Brigade, masters of improv comedy (and aspiring data scientists!)

Being good at improv isn’t something one is born with. Governed by a set of rules (irony alert!), improv is a practiced skill only mastered through repetition. These laws provide a framework to inspire creation. Improv isn’t just making jokes; it’s a philosophy. And as it turns out, creation and philosophy can be quite funny.

As taught in smelly improv classes all over the world, one of the core tenets of improv philosophy is the “Yes, And…” rule. This concept guides each character in a scene to constantly accept the dialogue of others as an integral part of their shared fictional work — hence the ‘Yes’ — and always add something to that world — hence the ‘And’.

By applying the “Yes, And…” approach, improvisors quickly scale up ideas — without fear and with a sense of play — to create something entirely new. The underlying assertion is that ensembles produce better results than individuals acting alone.

This is true of improv, but it is also true of data science. At Cerebri AI we are in the prediction business. Whenever we tackle a new problem, need to create new models, or find a new product solution, we assemble our talented crew of experts from a wide variety of fields and establish a “Yes, And…”  environment for the entire group. Using this distinctly collaborative approach, we created Cerebri Values™, the first universal measure of customer success. We also had quite a few laughs along the way.

Andrew Kraemer is the tallest data scientist in the Austin office of Cerebri AI. Despite his best efforts, his parents still don’t know what he does. Hopefully they will read this post. Hi Mom!

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