I am an unabashed improv nerd. And I mean visibly nerdy from space. At 8, the very first presentation I gave to a class was on Harold Lloyd, Hollywood’s silent film-era comedy stuntman. And I dressed the part, too.
I’ve managed teams and I’ve been performing comedy on a stage for over two decades. I know this: each of us has a kid inside waiting to play no matter our age. The big reason I believe in improv is that it means playfulness and personal growth.
When people hear ‘improv,’ they often hear theatrical performance. It’s bigger than that. It’s using tools from the stage to achieve better outcomes offstage in life and business. That means more creativity, joy, and happiness!
Here are five ways improv will change your everyday life!
1. Using ‘Yes‘ to Move Forward
The central tenet of improvisation is ‘yes, and.’ That means in every scene, in order to move the story forward, we accept each others’ choices rather than deny them. The ‘and’ involves adding onto the choice so that ideas move forward. Nothing will kill creativity, relationships and effort more than constantly being denied. Imagine a group brainstorm session where every idea is blocked with a ‘No, that won’t work,’ or the insidious ‘Yes, but…’ which is nothing more than a ‘no’ masquerading as a yes.
At some point, you’ll stop trying. This mentality kills ideas before they have a chance. Now change your ‘yes, but’ to a ‘yes, and’ or ‘tell me more,’ (it doesn’t have to be a literal yes, and). Watch how the energy of the conversation changes. Outcomes will be better, more positive and you’ll turn a conversation around pretty quickly. And a ‘yes, and’ doesn’t mean you’ll implement every idea; it simply means ‘I hear you and let’s keep innovating.’ That attitude opens people up rather than shutting them down.
“Yes, and…” is also about saying yes to yourself. You don’t always have to have the answers. Life is improv. When you get that call to do something incredible, “Say Yes!” If you must, figure out how later.
2. Listening to Collaborate
Listening is the most important element in improvisation. Most of us live our lives in our heads. When we are in conversation with someone, we’re spending most of that energy thinking about what we are going to say next, rather than listening to what the person is really saying to us. We filter for survival. As author Ekaterina Walter says, we’re in the age of ‘Infobesity.’ It’s a brutal reality that has our attention span under constant assault.
Listening opens the door to ‘yes, and…’ so that gifts and offers of ideas can be built on. That’s the corollary to great listening – it allows us to co-create something better together than we could create on our own. Improvisation is an ensemble activity, and you have to make your onstage partner look good. When you listen and clear your head of any canned ideas, you give the gift of being fully present. That allows team members to deepen relationships and create better outcomes for the team, organization, your marriage, partnership – hey, even with your kids!
With all that’s going on, we’re all being called to listen, empathize and collaborate in whole new ways.
3. Taking Bigger Risks
Improv involves taking risks in order to see what works. That requires safety. We all need a safe place to experiment, make mistakes, and learn.
Here is the reality for anything in life and business: the more hung up we are on being right, the less we take risks. Every great comedy coach I ever had said to me, “have the courage to not be funny.” When you let go of driving every outcome or trying to look good, you have more fun and you’re able to enjoy the journey. That is precisely where joy, play, and success happens. That is true in business, marriages, friendships – all of it!
Growth is inversely proportional to ego. So let go of outcomes and enable more play as you enjoy the process.
4. Working Creativity Muscles
In improv, we generate ideas without judging them. When we suspend judgment, we feel empowered to come up with our best and craziest ideas!
Improv helps us see things backwards, upside down, sideways, through mash-ups, and in entirely new ways. Exercises from improvisation can help us think more creatively about challenges and generate better ideas for solving them. I’ve said this before: improv is circuit training for your creative brain. No spandex required!
5. Embracing Imperfection
Improv embraces imperfection because marketing and brands, like people, are imperfect. You try something. Maybe it does not work as expected, and you move on. Mistakes are celebrated because they help us learn. When improvisers break character and laugh, when they get names wrong, when they poke fun at each other on stage—these moments are all gifts that make stories better and audiences crack up. Stories, like people, are not perfect. Imperfections make things fun, human, relatable and real. That’s where the real connection is!
Improv is Growth
Improv is about letting go, growing, and failing in a safe environment, in order to be better tomorrow than you are today. That’s no different from what any person wants. Yes, improv will hone your comedy chops. Yes, and… it will give you so much more than that for your life.
By Kathy Klotz-Guest