Improve Team Creativity With These Two Words!

by: Doug Michaelides

Every spring I witness one of the most inspiring (and high energy) shows in town – the National Tournament finals of the Canadian Improv Games.  It’s the Olympics of improv for high school students across Canada.  And it’s one of the best training grounds you could imagine for future leaders.

Before the Canadian Improv Games (CIG), my only exposure to improv was the clever comedy of Second City or “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”  Now, as I’ve watched high school students throw themselves into this activity, I’ve realized that improv develops exactly the right life skills for our time.  Skills that we desperately need in our businesses.

As Stephen Colbert once told graduating seniors at Knox College, ”  . . . there was really only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, “yes and.”  . . .  Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all.  With no script.  No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before.  And you are not in control.  So say “yes.”  And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say “yes” back.”

What does this inspiring advice have to do with business?

The Rules of Improv Applied to Business

In improv, there are three golden rules:

  1. Say the first thing you think of
  2. Say “yes and” to everything
  3. Make your partner look good

Imagine a workplace where everyone feels secure being out-of-the-box creative when tackling challenges.  Where everyone is totally comfortable with (no, thrives on) uncertainty.  Imagine working with colleagues who NEVER shut you down with a “no but …”.  Instead, they accept your ideas and do their best to advance them with a “yes and . . .”  Imagine never hesitating to step up and take a risk because you know a trusted colleague will always be there to save you and keep everything moving.

Does that sound like a place you’d like to work?  Does it sound like a place where big things get done?

Here’s an idea.  Next time you plan an off-site session try introducing some improv mindset to your team.  I’ll bet the folks at CIG might have a few suggestions.  It could be the first step to creating an unstoppable cultural shift in your organization.

If “all the world’s a stage”, then all business might just be an improv stage where we’d all benefit from more “yes and . . .”  No buts about it.

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