How to improve your business with improv comedy

 

Improv comedy is an extemporaneous interaction – meaning “spoken or done without preparation or advance thought.” No advance planning? Pretty solid idea as far as a funny theatre performance goes, but not exactly the best business practice. Or is it..

The potential of improv as it relates to business should not be undervalued.  “Some people misunderstand improv…it seems that improv is all about being funny. But it is not. Improv is about being spontaneous. It is about being imaginative. It is about taking the unexpected and then doing something unexpected with it. The key is to be open to crazy ideas and building on them. And funnily enough, this is exactly what is needed if we are going to make our enterprises more creative and agile.

-Paul Sloane, The Leaders Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills

The following 4 fundamental rules of improv should shape the way we conduct business today:

1. Respect

The first rule of improve is to say yes – improvisers know this as “Yes, And.”  It means you validate the other party and show respect by receiving what they communicate with an open mind. Acceptance sets the tone for a positive interaction.  Tina Fey (my hero for many reasons) discusses this concept in her autobiography, Bossypants:

 As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. “No, we can’t do that.” “No, that’s not in the budget.” “No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar.” What kind of way is that to live?

Improv teaches you the art of agreement. Agreement, fundamentally, is a sign of respect. It rids an interaction of judgement and fills it with trust and goodwill. Agreement keeps all doors and windows of opportunity open.   By keeping these options open and exploring their full potential, you might end up some place better than you ever thought possible. Consciously practice the concept of “Yes, And,” and you will be mobilizing respect, acceptance and validation to the world around you. 

2. Contribute

The second rule of improv is to bring energy and contribute something. Yes, AND implies that not only do you accept and validate what you have been presented, you add something. The agreement you have established will stall unless you build on it.  Every interaction is ultimately a transfer of energy – and you get what you give. To get the most out of the interaction – start by turning on your receptors. Listen with an open mind and allow the interaction to evolve. 

3. Be part of the solution

Be part of the solution means make positive contributions instead of always asking questions or pointing out why something won’t work. Interestingly, people who are negative or resistant are often more conflicted with themselves than anything else. Do you trust yourself to be part of the solution? Humor Specialist John Kindle discusses improv comedy, the trust mindset and working together in Humor Power:

 What I learned from these experiences is that whenever you are having difficulty playing with another player, perhaps one who doesn’t have the seasoned skills necessary to guarantee success…the problem is that YOU aren’t good enough to play with them.  The problem isn’t them.  The skilled player…the pro…brings out the best in others.  That’s a profound message.

As they say, when you point a finger at someone else there are four more pointing back at you. Make it a priority to be a part of the solution.

4. Carpe diem

Carpe diem means  treat everything as an opportunity. In improv, the focus is always on moving forward. There is no room for looking back, placing blame or making judgments.  While it’s important to learn from mishaps, successful leaders (and businesses) learn by making adjustments as they move forward.  In Bossypants, Tina Fey illustrates the principle of carpe diem with the following examples of how “happy accidents” like Botox and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups make the world a better place. Coca-cola, too, was invented by accident. The human race has a history of accidental discovery. And I can’t even imagine how boring life would be if we didn’t learn and grow and improve. But we must first remember to experiment and play.

To me, carpe diem means you see the world creatively. You are open to possibilities. You are ready to make them work in your favor. In a word, you are ready to improvise.

 

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