Improv at the Office
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Improv at the Office

April 21, 2015

Adopting a philosophy of improv at the office isn’t actually about being funny. It’s about having an orientation in line with the rules of improv – and like improv itself, there’s a certain amount of practice involved with getting it right. In improv, failure is always a risk. And even the most talented and experienced actors have a scene flop occasionally. Embracing uncertainty and allowing for your thinking and your roadmap to veer off course allows the journey to lead your thinking in more interesting directions.

“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious”
Peter Ustinov

 

Adopting a philosophy of improv at the office isn’t actually about being funny. It’s about having an orientation in line with the rules of improv – and like improv itself, there’s a certain amount of practice involved with getting it right. In improv, failure is always a risk. And even the most talented and experienced actors have a scene flop occasionally. Embracing uncertainty and allowing for your thinking and your roadmap to veer off course allows the journey to lead your thinking in more interesting directions.

The number one (and arguably the most important) rule of improv is to say “yes-and!” no matter how unexpected or absurd the situation. In the world of improv saying “yes-and!” means agreeing to move forward and adding your own contribution to keep the momentum going.

At the office, saying “yes-and!” means making a choice to actively find something of value in whatever has been offered to the discussion, rather than focusing on what may be inaccurate or problematic, even if those things are obvious. Blocking (or denial) is, essentially, the opposite of saying yes. Blocking makes it difficult for a good idea (or scene) to get better, and even more difficult for a bad idea to be transformed into something worthy of discussion. Pointing out a flaw with whatever came before your turn to speak is easy – which is why it’s often the natural response. However, identifying a nugget of value in an ordinary or even sometimes inaccurate contribution not only allows for a more active flow of discussion, it reflects well on your character and intelligence.

When all members of a team choose to say “yes-and!” discussions not only become more collaborative, but can also extend into a more creative space with shared success.

We’ve listed a few rules/principles of improv (my favorites, pulled from multiple sources across the internet) that you should keep in mind in the office:

  • Say yes-and!
  • After the ‘and’ add new information
  • Don’t block
  • You can look good if you make your partner look good
  • Always check your impulses
  • Work at the top of your brains at all times
  • Trust… trust your fellow actors (coworkers) to support you; trust them to come through if you lay something heavy on them; trust yourself.
  • LISTEN
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