We'd love to hear about your needs. Please answer a few quick questions.

Would you like us to call you?
Would you like us to call you?

4621 N Ravenswood Ave.
Chicago, IL 60640
United States



NogginLabs was founded on the notion that custom e-learning design and development is the ultimate horizontal industry. Time and again, each new project, client, and industry proves it. The biggest advantage of the e-learning horizontal is cross-pollinating ideas from two wildly different domains. A restaurant service simulation for iPad may influence a high-fashion online retail challenge. E-learning for financial advisors in a bank could inspire a mobile outreach program for cancer survivors. This variety also keeps the creative folks at NogginLabs fresh. Fresh learning ideas and designs come from a set of constantly changing constraints.

Agreement: avoiding arguments during custom e-learning development


Agreement: avoiding arguments during custom e-learning development

Matt Young

One of our Blueprint Laws here at NogginLabs is to avoid poisonous philosophical arguments. Outside of education and instructional design, I have a background in the theater, and more specifically the improvisational comedy world birthed right here in Chicago. One of the guidelines to performing improvisational comedy is the concept of Agreement. At their core, these two concepts, Agreement and Avoiding Arguments, are essentially the same. Let me show you what I mean.


It’s especially important for young improvisors to learn Agreement, sometimes referred to as “Yes, and.” It is far easier to construct a show on stage in front of a live audience by saying “Yes” to everything. Saying “No” is considered a Denial.

Example #1
Actor 1: I like this ice cream shop.
Actor 2: No. It’s not an ice cream shop. It’s a dog groomer.

You immediately see the problem. But it can happen more subtly too.

Example #2
Actor 1: I like this ice cream shop.
Actor 2: I don’t like ice cream.
Actor 1: We could go get Thai food instead.
Actor 2: I don’t like Thai food either.

The actors in that scene agree that they are in an ice cream shop, but Actor 2 isn’t actively building the scene with his partner. And the scene is stagnating. Like any collaborative creative endeavor, we only move forward by reaching agreement and by each contributing to the process. However, time and time again, people will default to this negative response loop.


But why? The answer is simple: fear. "No" is the easiest way to control a situation. An empty stage in front of a crowd who want to laugh when all you have is what is happening in other people’s stupid brains is out of your control. It’s terrifying. Just as terrifying as hiring a custom e-learning vendor, like NogginLabs, to build something that meets the critical business need you're responsible for solving. The client has seen samples of our work, but now this project is REAL and it is going to HAPPEN and nothing–ABSOLUTELY NOTHING–can go wrong. So, be sure to stifle creativity at every turn. Anything that seems weird or offbeat should be shut down immediately. Say no to the ideas put forth to create solutions. See where this is going?

Fear wrecks the best of intentions. Except that it doesn’t have to. Just like in the improv scene, the feeling of having no control is practically the same as having all of the control. The fear of the unknown must be crushed to allow true creativity to flourish. As a group, improv comedians get to create everything. If they say it is so, it is so. That open, undefined space can become anything they imagine it to be. So what does that look like? Check this out:

Example #3
Actor 1: I like this ice cream shop.
Actor 2: Yes, and they have the best banana splits in the state!
Actor 1: The best banana splits in Idaho? Wow!
Actor 2: The contest to keep the title is being held here tonight.
Actor 1: Let’s be judges!

Silly. And immediately more fun. Those two are working together to build something. Even when they don’t literally say “Yes, and,” there is an implied Agreement, plus additional information, to create a more detailed and fun world to play in. Creating something new out of nothing requires time and space to grow. The word Yes pushes it forward. The negative response loop is circumvented, because the word No would shut it down before it even began. The only limitation is fear. Fear of looking foolish. Fear of being wrong. Fear that everyone will judge your choices.


We can devise your ideal custom e-learning course using the same concepts. We are your "scene partner" to create this course together. When we collaborate, we find our most successful (and enjoyable) projects are the ones where our clients embrace the ideas that we bring to the table. Not only do they like those ideas, but they say YES to those ideas, and [insert more ideas here]! They are excited. They are engaged. They want the project to be a success. They are not operating out of a place of fear.

So how do we avoid fear and the negative response loop when building custom e-learning software?

By avoiding arguments. Well…how do you avoid arguments?

By saying yes to ideas and not shutting down the creative process with the word (and overwhelming feeling of) “No.” (See? I told you they were the same thing all the way at the top).

That is not to say that we have all the answers. Back to improv comedy for a second…

You will see more experienced comedians use the word No. they respond honestly to the input they are getting from the other actors on stage with them. The difference is that they are taking in every bit of information and responding with honesty and still building something together. They are natural and have real conversations where theword No exists, but the concept of No does not. They have the experience and the understanding to sift through the dozen (maybe hundreds) of bits of information that are coming their way on stage in any given moment and still work together to move forward using whatever language is most useful in the moment (think Neo in The Matrix).

We must also openly overcome any obstacles to the project’s success. Avoiding arguments isn’t about avoiding issues or challenges. It’s about saying yes and building on each others ideas in the planning stages of a project. There are inevitably things that we must say no to, but as long as we are saying yes to other things, we are in good shape. The real trouble comes from the no-only approach. Have an opinion not only about what you don’t like, but also about what you do like.


No matter how hard you try, some people are not going to like what you create. Period. There is no escaping it, so why dumb down the cool, amazing thing you could make in a vain attempt to appease those you cannot please? If you make something amazing, the sound of the resounding cheers and the “I-never-thought-training-could-be-like-this” and the “This-was-such-a-cool-experience” will drown out those old curmudgeons who probably wouldn't it no matter what you did.

By why not make the choices that are more acceptable to everyone? Why fight the need to control with No? Why fight the natural, inherent state of fear?

Because your project is an opportunity to improve the lives of the learners–the people–taking your course. Show your passion, your intelligence, and your sincerity, so that you can create something dynamic and meaningful. Why not make it beautiful? Interesting? Exciting? If you are going to put time and energy into something, why not make it the best version of that thing that it can be? Open someone’s eyes to see something in a way that never occurred to him or her before. What if the course you build changes even one person’s life for the better? Isn’t that worth fighting for?

Avoiding poisonous philosophical arguments is our way of encouraging you to embrace the creative process. To have a successful project, allow creativity to blossom under the nurturing hand of Agreement. Custom e-learning software can be an art form, if you allow it to be.