Why is it that companies such as Facebook, Uber, Apple and Pepsico are part of the growing trend in bringing improv into their employee training programmes? What can we learn from an art form that spontaneously creates a whole show out of nothing? Well, it turns out – a lot!

I’ve been a hugely avid student of Improv for years now. I’ve even created my own workshop to introduce the principles of improv into the companies I work with. I believe they might just be the antidote to revitalising creativity and collaboration in large organisations.

Improv is firstly the permission to play. A concept so lacking in our adult lives. When did being an adult become such a serious business? We place huge importance on fun and imagination for children – we see the value in how it builds confidence, learning and experimentation.

Yet, we ignore this need as adults. Not only is it a joy killer but also is inherently detrimental to innovation and originality.

The principles of Improv can not only regarded as sage wisdom for life but also sound rules for business. Let’s delve into two of these principles now (with more to follow in the next blog post).

LET yourself fail

Failing is actually the easy part. We’re human. We naturally learn best through experimenting which means trial and error. However, we’ve become so fearful of the ‘error’ part that we stop ourselves from the ‘trying’ part. What Improv re-invigorates in us is the spirit of giving ourselves permission to get it wrong.

In fact, when learning improv, you start with lots of games and whenever someone messes up – we actually all cheer and celebrate.

It’s easy to spot this fear of failure in the workplace. It’s where you hold yourself back from stating your point in a meeting. Or where you get tongue tied when the CEO asks you a question. Or when you don’t put yourself forward for promotion. That fear of looking stupid or getting it wrong is a real innovation killer in business. So improv starts to create a new mindset – to put the value on trying and learning rather than worrying about being perfect or ‘right’.

Yes and…

This is the real catalyst to making improv viable. ‘Yes and’ means that whatever your team mate offers, you have to accept it (the ‘yes’ part) and build on it (the ‘and’ part). That means – even if you thought this scene was about a ship – if your scene partner speaks first and says you’re on a spaceship – then you’re on a spaceship. To accept that is not enough though – you then have to add a new piece of information about the spaceship situation so your scene partner can build on that.

‘Yes and’ hones the skills of being totally adaptable and relinquishing control. You can’t go in with your own fixed idea and try and shoehorn it in. You can’t control your team or force them to do what you want, nor should you want to – it’s a creativity killer!

How can we bring these principles into the office?

Well firstly, think about how often we hear ‘no, but…’ in meetings. Someone offers an idea and gets ‘no, butted’– ‘it’s too risky’, ‘we’ve done it before and it didn’t work’, ‘it’s too expensive’. However, imagine you change the dynamic to creating a space for people to ‘yes, and…’ each other’s ideas. It is my belief that when leaders and teams create ‘safe spaces’ for bouncing ideas – the creativity of a team is brought to life. I’ve seen this in a bank that creates ‘innovation jams’ for people around the business to just come together and help solve a problem. The FCA sandbox would be another example where, even in the regulatory industry, space to trial new things is possible!

Disney famously had 3 separate rooms for his teams to do their thinking! One of which was the ‘dream’ room where the team were only allowed to think up new ideas. The ultimate ‘yes and’ room!

Whilst you may not be able to create your own ‘yes and’ rooms – I think individually we can all decide to put a ‘yes and’ hat on in meetings. Hold the space for people to share their ideas and ‘yes and’ them to see where they might go.

For more information on how to bring Improv into your office or team, get in touch with Nicola (nicola@msbexecutive.com).