Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Power of Improv in the Workplace

So last night I'm reading what I think is a book just for fun (yes, people still read for fun, not often but it is still a thing) and I randomly ran across the rules of improvisation. (See "Whose Line is it Anyway.") It made sense as I read it and imagined all the (not that much) improv I've seen in my life.

And then I realized that this comedic framework could perhaps set the tone for very positive workplace interplay. Here we go.

The first rule of improv is
AGREE. Always agree and say YES.

So in improv if I say, "This banana could go off at any moment!" You can't say, "Hey that's not even a banana and if it were, bananas don't explode." That would be bad improv. The fact that you agree with my insane fruit idea moves the plot forward and will stimulate more creativity.

The idea of agreeing and saying yes in the real world doesn't mean you ultimately go along with whatever seemingly stupid idea coworker X just threw at you. It does mean your response should be to respect the idea coming at you and at least say yes to it initially.

This can go two ways:

a) The idea initially strikes you as moronic, but since you initiate the first rule of improv and say yes, you initially validate the person and engage in a respectful conversation. Within said conversation to your surprise you learn that your knee-jerk reaction was the stupid part and coworker X has a killer out-of-the-box idea!

b) The idea initially strikes you as moronic, but since you initiate the first rule of improv and say yes, you initially validate the idea and engage in a respectful conversation. To coworker X's surprise he realizes that his "great" idea had many holes in it and is in fact, well, a stupid idea.  They connected the dots with your help; you didn't tell them.

So the bonus is coworker X doesn't walk away thinking you're a douche because you always poop on his ideas. Instead, you're seen a person who welcomes and respects new ideas which will actually foster the proliferation of more new ideas! (And I get bonus points for using the word proliferation apart from war build-up terminology.)

The second rule of improv is
Say YES, AND...

You are to agree with the idea coming at you AND add something of your own to it. So if I say, "This banana could go off at any moment!" You could respond with, "Oh jeepers you're right!"

That doesn't exactly move anything forward. But if you say,"Oh my gosh! Of course it could--I can see the detonator in your pants pocket!"  Now we're getting somewhere. (Somewhere PG13 probably.)

Yes, and in improv and the workplace means don't be afraid to contribute. In fact it's part of the rules--it's your responsibility to contribute to an idea. By design your interactions are worthwhile.

Now we could make cheesy successories quotes here, but let's not. Ok, just one: We is better than me. The essence of yes, and means that we're truly collaborating. It's not your idea or my idea, it's our exchange and intermixing of ideas. Yes, and fosters two people working together versus one person pitching an idea at someone.

The Third rule of improv is

In improv this is avoiding Seinfeldian up-talking like, "So I am the doctor?" "This is fruit salad?" It's about making declarative statements, laying down solid footing for the next piece of action to push off from. "I am the doctor so of course I know fruit salad when I feel it."

In the workplace this means quit disclaiming your ideas. Because we're constantly agreeing with each other and saying yes, and we have trust. So let's not slow down the flow of ideas and possible solutions by mealy up-talking, "We could bring in a consultant?" "I think I have the solution?" This is a time-saver. And it moves us along to our last rule, which is really important.

The fourth rule of improv is
THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities

The great thing about improv is we are in charge of our destiny. If we improv ourselves into a jam we just pull an even crazier idea out of our collective arse and all is well. It just requires we keep going and keep thinking up crazier stuff.

You may think, "Hey dude, this ain't fantasy land; there are real mistakes in the workplace." True. But short of mistakes that end in death, there's always a fix, another whacky play to run. Sometimes we just forget we're highly creative creatures. If we are looking for opportunities instead of mistakes to pin on people, well junkies Scoob, I bet we'll find a solution. Crazier-than-fiction books have been written about really cool things raising up out of the ashes just because someone was too creative or too determined to quit.

Ok let's do this!
1. Always agree and say yes
2. Say yes, and...
3. Make statements
4. There are no mistakes, only opportunities

This was inspired by pgs 84,85 of Tiny Fey's book Bossypants where she nets out the rules of improv.