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Looking for Ways to Improve Innovation?

Improvisational Comedy Can Show You How

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DISRUPTION is happening in even the most stalwart industries, leading business leaders scrambling to create a culture of innovation in their organizations. Coming up with amazingly novel ideas isn’t an innate ability but can be a learned skill that leaders and their teams can develop. The techniques of improvisational comedy can provide important lessons for developing a innovation mindset.

From my 20 years of performing, directing, and producing live improvisational comedy, I’ve learned that fresh ideas are out there for the picking. Originality and innovation blossom from deep in the recesses of the mind, not because some people have the magical creative gene, but because they open themselves up to recognizing and exploring the uncharted areas in everyday work and life. This is where improvisational actors excel and why improv comedy techniques can lend themselves to promoting an innovation culture within organizations.

Here are some methods honed through improv that can trigger new and expansive ideas:

1. Steer clear of the word “No.”

In improv, actors are taught to avoid saying No. If an improv actor offers an idea and the scene partner replies “No” to it, then the scene is effectively over. Improvisational actors are trained to use the words “Yes, and…” to quickly move ideas forward and create completely new and unexpected concepts.

Using “Yes, and” works best while your team is in the ideation phase. As you get to the execution phase, you may need to start saying No and eliminating concepts with little chance of working. But by listening and encouraging the team to offer ideas in the initial stages, team members will feel included and be more inclined to have buy-in on a final decision.

2. Perfect the practice of “heightening.”

Heightening is a way to allow concepts to evolve in ways that allow them to grow from a seemingly normal, practical idea into a wild, unconventional end product. In improv comedy, the actors step out on the stage not knowing what they’re going to do or say, or what their fellow actors are going to do or say. Without any planning, they take the rawest of material and weave a tale with multiple layers, different characters, random jumps in time and unexpected twists and turns — all somehow leading to a neat resolution. This is “heightening,” and it allows their imaginations to go to exciting and original places, unfettered by practicality or reality.

When teams allow heightening to take, they generate far more material to consider. The original idea is still there and you can go back to it at any point, but you may also find that by letting imaginations run free, you’ll have new, exciting and more interesting versions of the original concept.

3. Expand your curiosity.

Make a point to follow where your curiosity leads you. Interested in bird watching? Sign up for an outing where you’ll meet people who can share their knowledge about types of gear, bird species, and even what’s threatening bird habitat. Pursuing new interests can’t help but have a ripple effect.

The unexpected benefit that comes from putting new pursuits into motion is that you discover all the different offshoots that surround an activity. Simply by expanding your knowledge, you have a means of uncovering fascinating raw material to turn into new ideas. You’ll begin to see connections or possibilities in all kinds of unexpected places. Those unexpected connections are what lead to innovation.

4. Brush off the shame from being wrong.

The fear of being wrong is one of the biggest reasons we don’t put our ideas forward. The way you build your tolerance to feeling shame from a failure is by repeated exposure. Working as a comedian has helped me build up my resiliency. By failing a whole bunch of times in low-stakes environments — on open mic stages in crappy bars and clubs — I began to develop scar tissue. And when I failed, I dissected what worked and what didn’t so I could improve the next time.

Being willing to strike out into the unknown and face the chance of failing or being wrong becomes easier each time you do it. Also, acknowledging you were wrong about a decision or idea can open you up to being right. You learn something new from being wrong and, oftentimes, better options appear. Failing allows things to become clear, and you begin to understand what you may not have realized before.

Allowing yourself and your team to become unfettered in idea creation, to open up to outlandish ideas, to be unselfconsciously curious, and to overcome fear of failure. If you do this, you and others on your team will start to experience the feeling of inspiration finding you instead of you finding it.

**Originally published at Leading Blog

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