It ain’t just about being funny. Or laughing. But it doesn’t hurt.
At one point in my life I was leading three-day creative workshops for my clients. I was all over the country and did around 40 of these things. They were a blast but they were brutal. I had to keep upwards of 50 people entertained, interested and engaged long enough to solve some big corporate creative problems and have a lot of actual work developed at the end.
So I figured I needed all the help I could get. And what better way to learn to keep an audience engaged and be able to roll with the punches than to learn to do improv.
I found The New Movement Theater here in Austin and signed up for classes. I spent nearly a year there, every Sunday for three hours, learning from great performers and becoming part of an improv troupe of very talented and funny kids. I say kids because I was twice their ages.
And what did I learn that every company should teach?
And Bearhugging The Thing.
Allow me to explain why you should care.
The key to working with others to solve a problem is fertile ground for Yes, And. The concept is simple. Let’s say you’re doing an improv scene and the first person to say something says, “Gee Mike, that’s one ugly monkey… Is that your monkey?”
So he just gave you a great endowment. He gave you a name and an entry into perhaps owning a very ugly monkey.
Now you can say “Yes, that’s my monkey and I know he’s ugly, but we’re getting botox next week…”
Or you can say, “My name is Fredrick and that’s not a monkey, thats a goat.”
You killed it. You murdered the scene, the great endowment and it’s not going anywhere. But when you Yes, And, you take what is given to you and you add to it and hand it back. You add and improve and help your partners.
Think about being in a meeting and someone throws out an idea. You can either Yes, And the idea, adding to it and continuing the momentum or you can squash it. If you’re in the business of solving problems, you will Yes, And and watch the process get better and better.
And what about Bearhugging The Thing.
In the above improv scene, that would be embracing Mike and that ugly monkey and seeing where it could go. You’ve only got a few minutes to make a funny scene so once it starts to go in a direction, recognize it and go with it, add your own energy and watch it grow.
That’s the same in life AND work. Recognize good energy and go with it instead of just killing it.
The company I’m working with these days, eRelevance agreed to let me bring in a talented improv teacher named Patrick Knisley and start improv training. We did it with the creative staff, then we’ll do it with the client account managers, then we’ll all do it together. Who knows who’s next, Sales?
I must admit, we had a lot of fun and everyone laughed the whole time but we’re learning good stuff as well. How to better sell our ideas, to recognize the subtle signals of our co-workers and our clients and to keep good creative energy flowing.
Yes, And. Bearhugging The Thing. Embrace them both and see how much more you’ll accomplish. And see how much more fun you’ll have doing it.