From the Leadership Coach:
Bring an Improv Comedy Mindset to Your Office


Wouldn’t life be grand if all we had to do was make great art and call it a day? But alas, with all design projects come inspiration, planning, challenges, changes, problems, luck—good and bad, budgets and … get ready for it … other people.

After working with thousands of humans who work in just about every area of life, I can say with confidence that the best tool we can have when creating anything or working with others, is improv.

Improv is being in the moment while spontaneously creating connection through conversation. It can instantly and dramatically improve every aspect of your personal and professional life.

Improv creates a fundamental agreement with others that you’ll be focused on what’s working, what will work going forward, and what’s possible in every aspect of life.

Most importantly, it’s just plain fun and makes being with other human beings a whole lot more fun.

Let’s look closer.

Number one: The “Yes, And”

If you want a happy life and a successful business, you need to be able to be in partnership, accept what is, and create with what you have right in front of you. This is the first rule of improv. Say “yes” to whatever cue you’re given, and build from there.

In Bossypants, Tina Fey explains how “Yes, and” works. In an improvised scene with a partner, if you're rowing a boat down a river, you don’t say, “No, we’re folding laundry.” You say, “Yes, and we could really use a paddle instead of my arm.” This “yes, anding” adds to the scene, validates the scene partner’s idea, and establishes trust.

Imagine the effect of this kind of unconditional partnership and validation in your office.The best ideas can come from “yes anding”. By using improv, you’re making your colleagues look good, developing ideas, and from there, anything is possible.

We’ve all experienced the opposite of this. Relatives who say no to everything. Colleagues who love to point out why something WON’T work. Friends who flake. You know the types, they’re the naysayers, the negative nellies, let’s be honest, the lame-duck people in our lives.

Improv offers some hard-and-fast rules to help deal with these automatic “no’s” in yourself and your dealings with others. Improv turns old road blocks into new avenues.

After a Big Time improv workshop, one sales team reported and immediate improvement in closed business because their client management skills improved - just by using the words YES, AND, and being 100% focused on the win/win in each conversation.

This is the first rule of improv: say “yes” to whatever cue you’re given. Build from there.

Number two: Focus on solutions

Life is messy and people are not perfect. We don’t need to create more problems or complaints. Obstacles in life are guaranteed and will always arise without our help. Improv teaches us how to avoid focusing on problems and how to get into solution mode fast.

What if all “problems” were re-framed as opportunities for creativity? We’d be building structures, not putting out fires.

Imagine how your office, your home and even your relationship to yourself would shift if you were resolved to see everything as an opportunity to be more creative.

Some of our clients recognize that their teams are really good at describing and managing problems, but not so great at generating solutions. Improv has been key to unlocking their creative problem solving skills, allowing them to generate solutions just as easily as they could articulate challenges.

Not just for the Upright Citizens Brigade, improv comedy makes teams focus. Photo: Ali Sinan Köksal/Flickr

Number three: Limitless possibilities

If you’ve ever seen good improv onstage, you'll know that every person up there is magical. They can be anyone, hold any object, be anywhere in space and time. Their options and choices are unlimited.

Do you relate to yourself and your business this way? Or are you consistently frustrated by what isn’t there?

Are you willing to be wrong about your ideas and adopt entirely new constructs to operate from?

Improv offers us the opportunity to see ourselves, our work and our relationships in entirely new ways. It allows us to be uncomfortable on purpose in order to grow.

This is great in theory but in practice it’s not something most human beings embrace. Let’s face it, we don’t like change!

If you’re looking for that push to be bigger, braver and expand where you are in your life and business, an improv workshop could be the thing.

Taren Sterry is a leadership coach and team developer in NYC. Taren is a Brick & Wonder member and her business is Big Time.