3 ways improv will change your work style

By: Kelly Schermer

3 ways improv will change your work style

A lot of people think improv is about doing something you haven’t prepared for, but that description doesn’t really do it justice. Improv does require you to prepare, just not in ways you expect. 

Last year, 2A embraced an improv work culture that started out with a half-day training led by Bridget Quigg and Anya Jepsen. Since then our team has incorporated aspects of improv into weekly team meetings, manager check-ins, and team-building events (Seen Jet City’s Matchelorette, yet? We have!). 

Through practice and preparation, we’ve identified a few ways that the improv work style makes us more joyful, curious, engaged—overall, better at our jobs!

1.  Committing to improv ignites action

Improv is about being in the moment and committing to a shared reality you create with someone. It’s childlike and completely brilliant—think fresh air tickling your brain synapses.

The key is to turn off your editor, listen with your whole body, and let yourself respond. Some improv professionals refer to this as allowing yourself to “be average” or “trending toward action.” Whatever you call it, the point is to consistently contribute. Don’t hold back waiting for the “perfect” contribution.

The improv work style encourages you to trust that by engaging, you will be able to create/access/understand what you need in the moment. 

2. Turning your fall into a jump gets you farther, faster

Embracing an improv work style requires taking risks that may lead to something less than polished awesomeness, but that’s the point. Failing is essential to moving forward because every fail offers valuable lessons. The trick is to create a culture that doesn’t treat failing like a setback or an embarrassment.

When the neighborhood kids climb trees together, they constantly remind each other to turn their fall into a jump. By making falling part of their process, they have made it easier to let go of the embarrassment of the fall and embrace what they learned from it instead. No surprise the ones who shrug it off and keep trying climb higher, faster.

Much the same way, an improv work culture teaches you to grow comfortable with the fact that you’re going to fail. Expect it. Embrace it. Normalize it. Then turn it into a big leap forward.

3.  Building on others’ ideas builds trust

Many academic and company cultures tend to endorse the type of critical thinking that points out flaws in ideas—the “no, because” philosophy. While it can make you seem smart in the moment, “no, because” blocks collaboration, creativity, and inhibits participation.

Judy: “Let’s make the GIF a space cat!”
Me: “No, because cats are overused.”

On the flip slide, improv’s “yes, and” philosophy lays the groundwork for trust and teamwork. It encourages listening, collaborating, and engaging with one another through the act of acknowledging what someone else offers and building on it.

Judy: “Let’s make the GIF a space cat!”
Me: “Yes, let’s make the GIF about a space cat that needs AI to navigate the space shuttle.”

A fear of failure has trained many of us to prepare a response to a specific problem before we engage. However, the improv work culture teaches that when we prepare ourselves to fully engage, take risks, and build on one another’s ideas we can uncover new levels of richness that we could never reach alone.

If you’re looking to infuse your work style with a big shot of energy, laughter, and growth, what about giving improv a try?

(Psssst, the answer is “yes, and….”)