Theater Improv Lessons for More Creativity at Work

I just finished reading Tina Fey’s hilarious autobiography “Bossypants,” in which she includes a sidebar talking about her life lessons she learned from doing theater improv.   As a former theater improviser myself, and as someone who still uses theater improv from time to time as a training vehicle to talk about workplace themes around leadership, communication and creativity, I appreciated the inclusion of her insights.

Here are Tina Fey’s three rules of theater improv that could definitely apply to the workplace:

1. The first rule of great improv is to always agree with a premise and say YES!  A scene obviously dies pretty quickly if another actor blocks suggestions or doesn’t go along with the premise being offered up.  Now imagine a workplace culture where people tried their best to respond with an enthusiastic yes to every suggestion, idea or opportunity that came along – at least as an initial response!   Or at least try imagining a workplace where the number of “yeses” beats out the number of “no’s” people hear day in and day out!

2. The second rule of good improv is to build on ideas and scenes using a “Yes, and…” mentality.  Again, a great philosophy for the workplace, where instead of crapping all over each other’s ideas with a “We tried it before in 1961” kind of idea-killing comment,  employees instead look for ways to support, build on and improve ideas.  A “Yes and…” mentality is a key mindset to adopt if you want a workplace that embraces change and adopts an attitude of seeking out  continuous improvements.

3.  Rule number three is there are no mistakes in improv, only opportunities.  Again, a great perspective to bring into the workplace. Rather than “blame-storming” when mistakes happened, what if everyone focused on brainstorming new opportunities that can might emerge out of a setback?  What if you took time to brainstorm opportunities in general, instead of only brainstorming when you have a problem?  What if you created an environment, at the very least in your meetings, where any and all ideas are discussed without any fear of judgment or ridicule – where ideas are all accepted as potential right answers?  And what if you, the way BMW and other companies have done, created programs to reward “smart mistakes” in the workplace, as a way of encouraging people to try new things and embrace new opportunities?

Michael Kerr, May, 2011 www.mikekerr. com

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