Improvisors are fearless innovators. They create hours of new material without hesitation. They have cracked the innovation code. As an improv performer and teacher, I’ve learned and taught the code-cracking rules of improv. I’ve found that thinking like an improvisor doesn’t only serve me on stage, but also in business. When we think like an improvisor, we innovate faster, we learn faster, and we make things better faster.
“Yes, And” is the big one in improv. It is how we build something together and gain momentum. When player A says, “We’re on the moon,” player B says, “yes, and we were abandoned by the rest of our crew!” We already know so much about this story. If player B, responded “no, we’re at the doctor’s office,” we’re back to square one. Likewise, if player B responded only with a “yes,” we are stuck. The story went nowhere and all of the pressure is back on player A to move the story forward.
When we “yes and,” we start to build a glorious sandcastle together. When we negate or stop adding new ideas, we become the beach bully who kicks the sandcastle over. This simple rule allows us to come up with big ideas fast rather than painfully making small steps.
Mistakes Are Beautiful
Mistakes are like gold in improv because we don’t treat them like roadblocks, they are the first steps on a new path. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. In fact, embrace them. Mistakes can lead to innovation. If we always followed the “right” path, how would we make new discoveries?
Empathy and Listening
I’ve seen many beginning students do a scene where their scene partner says something like, “I want a divorce,” and they respond with, “not now, I’m making spaghetti.” They are not listening. If their spouse really said that to them, they would have a big emotional response. That statement has weight. True listening is hearing a statement and letting it affect you.
The same goes for design. If our scene partner in design is our customer and they are saying, “I don’t understand how to sign up for this program,” we need to listen. We need to have empathy. If we let that statement affect us, then we can design with our customer in mind.
When you improvise in front of an audience, you get instant feedback. You know what is working and what isn’t working right away because the audience is either reacting or not reacting. You can adjust accordingly and follow the things that are making the audience laugh.
The same applies to good design. If we can design a solution and get it into the hands of our audience right away, we can get that instant feedback. If there is an aspect of the design that the consumer likes, build on it. If there is an aspect they do not like, drop it. We make adjustments quickly. By failing fast, we can succeed faster.