Improv’s Top 10 Informs Business

by Samantha

  1. Say “Yes!” The number one rule in improv is to “Yes, and…” What does this mean, Sam? Well, I’m glad you asked! It means to truly say “yes” before you say “no.” This is a great tool in any ideation meeting. It ensures people are genuinely considering other people’s ideas. It also supports and validates the voices in the room. What prevents us from saying yes? Again, great question. The answer is simple: change. The fear of the unknown stops us in our tracks! As a result, we look for the “That won’t work because…” when we’re doing strategic planning. What we miss out on though are the possibilities of what comes after saying “Yes!”
  2. Find the “And!” Some of the best ideas come from collaborative minds working together to find a new and innovative solution. Playing off the “and” in an ideation meeting or an improv scene allows the scene to move forward! It raises the stakes of the scene and pushes the product to better, more exciting possibilities rather than staying in the same spot, doing the same thing. We already know what happens in that scene. Let’s see what happens on the other side of the “And!”
  3. Don’t Negate! This is an important rule in improv. How this looks:

    Person A. “Here. I made this whole pizza for you. Take it!”
    Person B. “That’s not pizza. That’s a basketball.”

    As an instructor, I see this time and time again with new improvisors. The pressure to be funny pushes people to force information that is often negating their scene partner. Not only does this prevent the scene from moving forward, but it’s also not funny. What usually happens next is that the scene becomes about justifying why the pizza is actually now a basketball.

    We may see this in communication with one another while strategic planning. Someone may throw out an idea (Person A) and the other (Person B) may deny the idea, declaring something else to be true. This can sound like, “I really don’t think that will work because I’ve never seen that as an issue here before. I’ve got an even better idea!” Not only do we not get to play out Person A’s idea, but Person B may have just lost the trust of the group by negating the process.

  4. Listen, Repeat, Respond! Mick Napier has a rule that he highlights in Improvise: don’t raise your hand to say something while someone else is talking. It is our responsibility to listen to every word someone is saying before it is our turn to respond. If we are raising our hand, waving it around while someone else is talking, it says to everyone else, “What I have to say is more important!” It takes attention away from the person talking. A good guideline to follow in both improv and life is to practice being able to repeat back everything the person just said to you before speaking. This ensures that space is held for all people.
  5. Don’t Always Be the Hero! Or, as We Call it in Improv, “The Cookie Getter.” You know the type, the one that doesn’t really join the meat of the scene or the meeting until the final moment. They frequently pop in the last few seconds to give the funny line or hit the home run. The truth is the moment would not have been made possible without the hard work of the people getting it there.

    If we look at the “battery of the scene” (the people who initiated it) or the planning, ask yourself, “Does what I’m about to say or do actually contribute to the moment or take from it? Am I just doing it to get a laugh or be a part of getting the credit for its success?” While we can be grateful for “the cookie getter” from time to time, consider asking yourself how often you make yourself vulnerable to be the battery. If the answer is never, then I’m guessing your colleagues might be feeling the burden of the work and mixed feelings about your involvement in the process.
  6. Notice the Other People in the Room. When in a scene, it’s important to look at the other people on the stage and take note of what they are doing. They may be offering information with their body language or space work (space work is when you mime doing something such as washing dishes). When in meetings, notice everyone in the room, not just the loudest talker. Pay attention to the body language and create space for all forms of communication to be accepted. It can be hard to interject when the same person continues to hold the mic.
  7. Be OK with Silence. Sometimes we just need a beat to take a breath. There is value in the act of doing nothing. Let the words land. Speaking to speak loses the power of intention. As we strive to develop our strategic plan, we must be OK with the concept of “less is more.” This allows those colleagues that lead with Blue and Green (Hello Insights DiscoveryTM) to have space to interject. A warmup game in improv is “Alphabet Circle.”
    How to play:

    • Stand in a circle and look down at the floor (works best with groups of 8 or less).
    • In popcorn style, say the letters of the alphabet.
    • If more than one person says a letter at the same time, you must start back with the letter A.
    • The goal is to get to Z. Do this a few times and see how far you get.
    • Questions to ask yourselves once you have done this a few times: Did everyone have an opportunity to say a few letters? How did people feel about the silence while waiting for someone to say a letter?
    • Did you get to Z? What could you think do differently to get there?
  8. Make Room for Play! It’s OK to laugh and play. When we’re working, it’s far too easy to be serious. Shake it up a little by saying “yes” to the witty banter. Find the game. In improv, if a game presents itself in a scene, the fun happens when we let it play out. The same can be true in any strategic planning or leadership opportunity. If a co-worker makes light of a moment, allow it to breathe. Add to it. Let laughter be as much a part of the process as the planning is.
  9. Change the Scenery! Much like in an improv scene, a lot of successful ideation and brainstorming can come from changing the environment. Getting into a new location can generate new ideas! The Prouty office can be a great place to gather! Let us know!
  10. Who, What, and Where. You know you’re watching a good improv scene when you as the improviser knows who you are, what you are doing, and where you are located. It enriches the scene for the performers and the audience. In strategy and leadership, we seek to answer these questions, or some variation of them. Who are we? What are we here for? Where do we want to do this work? Once we find the common ground of these questions, we can move into our actionable items that produce the outcome we are working towards!

When it comes to business, Improv’s Top 10 can absolutely bring value. Perhaps it’s time to say “yes, and” to a conversation on how to incorporate improv lessons into your organization. Samantha is ready to connect!



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