It’s not easy getting teams to think creatively about business challenges. It takes focus, energy, and oftentimes, incentives of free beer and pizza. It’s hard and nearly every business struggles with it, but in today’s creative economy it's essential.
So how do top companies get the most creative bang for their buck? The wise ones use Improv.
Improvisational Comedy, or Improv for short, is a performance art in which a group of performers create a one-of-a-kind performance right in front of the audience. It’s one-of-a-kind because every performance is created as the performers do what they do: perform. There are no scripts. No props. No planning. Nothing. It happens before your eyes and is, by its nature, completely original and unrepeatable. It’s a special experience, and it’s something any “creative” company should be using. Not to mention, it’s a whole lotta’ fun.
An Improv performance by UCB's ASSSSCAT.
In Improv, and in life really, the path to a capable team starts with rules.
In order for Improv performers to do what they do on stage, they abide by a certain set of rules and principles, just as a creative team or a company brainstorm might have. For the most part these rules are very simple, things like “not going for the joke.” With these rules, performers create an environment where creativity flourishes and the awesome happens.
By following a few simple tenets of Improv, this same creative environment can be created within your company. These princibles are fundamental to the ways we interact with each other creatively and if followed, can elevate your team’s collective creative powers to new levels. Here are the three to consider:
This is a BIG one. It’s the first -- and if you don’t take anything else away from this, it’s the only rule. Yes, and. It is the lifeblood of all improvisation and can help your team tackle any challenge they encounter. It’s simple: to every person’s idea the answer is always, “yes, and.”
Two important things are happening here. The first is affirmation and agreement between individuals. Yes, that is an idea. Partners are actively agreeing with each other's thoughts and recognizing their value. The idea doesn’t even have to make sense. The second, is the “and” bit. Affirming an idea can only get you so far, but adding that extra piece of information is where the real magic happens.
From a business perspective, it’s about promoting each other's ideas and building on top of them adding new details and furthering the original thought. “Yes I think we should have a barbecue with all the staffers and we should have a live band (here’s looking at you SG).” It’s that simple.
By incorporating a yes and mentality, people interact more creatively, championing each other's ideas and fostering a stronger sense of teamwork. True creative collaboration is only possible when everyone feels involved in solving the challenge at hand. Besides, nobody likes a person who disagrees all the time.
If yes and was big, this is HUGE. And it’s simple. Actively listen to those around you. Whether it's a partner on stage or a coworker across the table, listening is fundamental to any creative activity. In business, listening is often an undervalued skill. Active listening promotes comprehension and allows for the creation of new, exciting connections. The connection unlike ideas is the stuff of true creative genius and listening enables that. Not to mention, it’s way more that just spoken word.
On stage, things like movement, pantomiming objects, and body language are all very important observations. They give clues as to where the Improv scene is taking place, who the performers are, or what they are doing. To that same effect, a mindful sense of observation in the workplace is invaluable. There are tons of non-verbal cues given off by people that can give you guidance during a conversation, because what you say is never as important as how you say it.
If yes and was big and listening was huge, then this would be galactic. Have fun. On stage, this is easy and it just happens. However, in the rigors of the professional world you sometimes have to look for it. Improv teaches you to find the unusual thing that occurs in any given moment. And let me assure you no matter where you are, who you’re with or not with, in any interaction there’s bound to be some unusual thing that happens. When you see it, please make fun of it.
Employees and teams that have fun and love what they do create inspired work and better environments. Look for ways to break up the monotony of the work day during a brainstorm. Have it outside, during a team jog, or in a museum. Every creative challenge is unique, so try different approaches.
There are plenty more rules, techniques, and exercises from Improv we can apply to the professional world, but attention spans are short and serialized posts are popular. Splash a dash of improvised thinking at your next brainstorm or when your team finds themselves up against another challenge. Yes and, listen, and for the sake of workplace sanity, have fun.