What Improv Techniques and Can Teach Us About Change and Innovation

One of my favorite things to do to unwind is watch comedy.  It's a different kind of presentation - one where keen observation skills and wit come together to tickle both your brain and your funny bone.

The other interesting thing about improv that you may not have considered is that it can actually serve as a framework for dealing with mind-bending change. Our industry and our world is changing so fast, that our brains actually struggle with it.

Brains don't like change because change is inefficient.  We've already learned ways of doing things that work, and the primitive part of our brain fights against changing these changes because it thinks that if we try something new -- we will get eaten by a mastodon.  In other words, our world is evolving way faster than our brains and we have to train ourselves to evolve with it.

One way you can train your brain to react differently to change is to play with the techniques that improvisational comedians use to create funny scenes and entertainment on the spot.

How to use the rules of Improve to deal with change

Did you know that improv comedy actually has rules and a structure?  I didn't until I saw it used as a training game.  When you think about it, if improv didn't have a structure, it would be complete chaos in the comedy club and wouldn't really be funny.

The structure of improv is built on one fundamental rule -- Say Yes -- and -- then add new information.   Instead of arguing with what is, simply accept it as true AND make your next move based on these facts.  Taken to an extreme it's hysterical, but in reality, it's transformative.

Here's a terrific example from Who's Line is it Anyway

How often do you find yourself arguing with what is happening in the world around you?  You wish things were different and you spend valuable time, energy and money trying to hang on to a way of thinking that may not be useful anymore.  The rule of saying "Yes - and" - will free you up to think of other things that can be true given what's been said or encountered.

When we're thinking about the trends going on in market research - it's easy to get caught up in what we might have learned to be true in the past.  What would happen if we simply played "yes--and" with any of these trends.  Let's try some on for size:

  • Paper surveys are dead.  Yes -- and it's great that we have other ways of collecting feedback from customers; mobile, online, social media text analysis.

  • Let's treat surveys like games.  Yes - and I've created the survey equivalent to "cash cab" where we call people and ask them questions.  If they answer all the questions in our survey - they win CASH,

The next time you find yourself confronted with a statement that you don't agree with, play the "yes -- and" game and see what interesting insights you come up with.

Another key rule of improve is to Listen.  This can be really challenging because you will be drawn into thinking about what YOU will say next.  The critical skill comes in listening to what the other people on your team are doing and saying -- what facts, characters and information is being introduced.

Then listen with the intent to support their ideas and their facts.  The worst thing you can do in improv is take over a scene.  The star of the show is the idea and the story -- everyone else is just a supporting actor.

Another critical element in a successful improv piece is Trust.  Everyone has to trust that each performer is committed to moving the story forward and that they will support the other performers.

We have choices about how to deal with change

Change is the only thing we can count on.  We can choose to argue with the way the world is changing or embrace the change and play it out like a game.

The market research space has already embraced this idea with gamification.  Gamification isn't just for surveys and technology, we can choose to embrace the idea in every aspect of our business day.

So bring some fun and laughter into your next conversation by using the improv trick of "Yes -- and" to see where it will take your next big idea.