Three Ways Improv Comedy Can Improve Your Brainstorms
Brainstorming is by far the best part of my job—and probably the most important part of any project I work on.
It’s the moment where it all begins. Where you get to unleash your wildest and most outrageous creative impulses to generate the idea that underpins everything that comes next. It’s a time and space for pie-in-the-sky thinking. Reality checks, Excel sheets and cost-benefit analyses are for later in the process.
But it’s not always easy to get into the kind of free-flowing, uninhibited atmosphere conducive to creative genius—especially if you’re brainstorming in a group. As a part-time improviser, I’m more comfortable looking spastic in front of an audience than most people, but this isn’t an especially comfortable experience for most. I’ve learned a lot about thinking quickly and putting my trust in my teammates, and I think I’m a better brainstormer because of it.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned on stage that have helped me in group brainstorming:
1. Support each other
A lot of people will tell you that there’s no such thing as a bad idea when you’re brainstorming. They’re wrong. You, and everyone in your group brainstorm, will come up with a few stinkers, but you just need to consider that the fertilizer from which your golden idea will sprout. Just like on stage, not every idea will be a winner—some things will fall flat and everyone needs to be okay with that. On stage, the golden rule is “yes, and.” You never reject an idea, and you never throw anyone under the bus. It’s this atmosphere of trust that makes great creativity possible.
2. Build off each other
In improv, the players on stage build a scene by making and accepting offers. If I pretend to unpack a picnic on stage, my teammate will accept the offer and build upon it in some way. Maybe she feigns agitation and says, “an asteroid is heading for earth, and you’re having a picnic in the park?” My rather innocuous picnic is now a picnic on the eve of earth destruction and things are suddenly interesting. You never know how your idea might inspire someone else in the room. It’s a jumping off point that can lead to something incredible, so say what’s on your mind, and listen—really listen—to everyone around you.
3. Fail joyfully
I really hate improv scenes where I need to put on an accent. I’m beyond bad at it. When I absolutely can’t avoid it, the only way I get through them is to cut myself some slack, remember I’m creating something on the fly, and fail joyfully. Instead of getting anxious or upset, let yourself laugh at the missteps and play into them. Adopting this attitude in a brainstorm helps keep things light and creates a safe atmosphere where people can speak their minds.
Next time you’re facilitating a brainstorm with your team, think about sharing some ground rules before you get started. Set the stage, if you will (improv joke) for collaboration, failure and triumph. You never know what you’ll come up with.