Lessons from Improv

I’ve come full circle on the notion of improvisation as a source of innovation.  I just finished a three day improv training program at The Second City to try to find direct application to corporate growth.  I found it.

My pursuit of a method of innovation started with John Kao’s book, “Jamming,” which compared innovation to the process of musical improvisation.  Jamming is a group activity where one musician lays down the foundational tempo and key for the other musicians who, one at a time, add their own interpretation of it.  At the time, I thought this was innovation nirvana.  But I moved away from it.  Improv and “jamming” in the Kao mindset seemed too much like brainstorming which is usually LESS productive than simply thinking of ideas by yourself.  It seemed too unstructured.  Bottom line: it didn’t work.

Now I’ve learned a more systematic approach to improv from a place that has launched the careers of more comedians than any other.  What I learned can be boiled down to: 1.  The Commitment Principle, 2. The “Yes, and…” Principle, and  3. The Relationship Principle.  When applied systematically, these yield very funny comedy sketches from anyone.  My belief is they can be used the same way in corporate innovation.

Commitment Principle means commit to both the role you are playing and the process.  The “Yes, and…” Principle means always take what line or idea your partner has given you and add value to it.  Match the energy and direction of your partner, but then add significant context or information to keep the dynamic going.  The Relationship Principle says to establish the connection and accountability to your partner above all else.  Without this, improvisation is impossible.

Comedic improvisation is a disciplined, structured, team activity.  My goal is NOT to become a comedian.  Rather, my goal now will be to merge these lessons from improv with Systematic Inventive Thinking to produce even better innovation, on demand.