My class being a carnival. I'm the funhouse mirror in the back!

Miriam tries…Improv as Cross-Training for the Business Brain

In the last six weeks, I’ve been: a sailboat, a snake, a plunger salesman, and a general plotting a robot war. I’ve thrown invisible balls to people who caught them. I’ve also played seemingly endless rounds of a game called “Pass The Clap.” It’s not what you imagine. I have just completed an introductory-level improvisation class, and I can’t believe how helpful it has been for my business brain. While there’s nothing like actually being in a room with strangers asked to transform ourselves into a carnival, a bucket of popcorn being buttered, or a group of babies seeing lightbulbs for the first time, improv practices can be very helpful outside of class. Here are some of the rules of improv that I encourage you to try out in your next challenging business situation.

First, the golden rule of “Yes, and.” Many of you have heard this before but have not actually tried it. I challenge you to try it sometime in the next week when you really want to say no. In addition to making everyone feel better working together, it invites creative problem-solving, which can bring about real innovation. The next time you are in a meeting and want to scream in frustration at someone’s comment or idea, try starting your sentence with “Yes, and.”

Second, celebrate mistakes. Some of the games in improv class were not the most intuitive for me. In real life, this would make me not want to play them, as I, like many of you, prefer to be pretty great at things from the start. When I changed my mindset to be proud of screw-ups, I instantly made it easier to keep trying and eventually get over the hump. I found that I could even get pretty good at things that did not come easily at first. In fact, I can now say that I’m pretty good at “Pass the Clap.”

Third, my favorite: just add a brick. It means that instead of trying to figure out the whole plot in a scene, just do one piece really well and see what others can add. It means you do not have to show up with all the answers all of the time. In improv, this means adding strong plot elements that others can use to expand the scene. In business, it means putting some good ideas out there and asking others to add on, to “yes, and” your ideas. These others can be members of your team, clients, prospects, or friends. This is a great framework for making progress on seemingly intractable problems.

What are you doing for fun these days? Any lessons you carry through to your work life? Any ideas for what I should try next?

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