Do you have the desire to be an industry power-house and authority, known as a “thought leader”, but think it’s “all work and no play”? Ever wonder how creative thought leaders Tina Fey, Conan O’Brien, and Stephen Colbert do it so effortlessly? Their secrets lie in the art of improvisation! Here are the 5 basic rules of improvisation that are powerful practices for the great leaders in any industry:

1.     Yes, and…

“Yes, and” is the most important rule of improvisation. The principle is simple: When you are presented with new information, you simply say, “Yes, and…” to better build off the suggestion. Pixar Studios incorporates this into their idea of “Plussing”. The practice of always agreeing and adding instead of denying and fighting. Your positivity and ability to adapt to new information with agility will set an example and spread to others throughout your organization.

2.     Don’t ask questions

Wait, wait, hear me out! When I say “Don’t ask questions” I’m not saying, “Don’t seek more information”. Instead, try to phrase your sentence as a statement. Asking questions can sometimes be seen as an attack on the idea and the unintended result may be the person becomes defensive or shuts down altogether. Next time, when presented with an idea, instead of asking the question, “Do you think that will work?” try the statement, “Tell me more about that”.

3.     It doesn’t have to be good

If you spend too much time and energy disqualifying your ideas because they aren’t “good enough” before they leave your mouth, you’ll end up with a white board full of blank space. When brainstorming, don’t worry about every suggestion or addition being brilliant or even relevant. With the “Yes, and” mentality, even the “worst” ideas can contribute to the larger picture. Strategy meetings should be a safe place for all ideas and every suggestion is a valid contribution.

4.     Make a connection on stage

Making a connection is all about being on the same page. This includes making a connection with your team, your leadership, and, most importantly, your audience. This connection comes from knowing your audience on a personal level. Gathering an understanding through empathy allows you to establish that connection and guide them to your desired destination. On stage, you may guide them to the punchline and in the market you will guide them to closing the deal.

5.     Make your partner look good

Make your partner look good and your partner will make you look good in return. You can see things your partner or teammate might not see and it is your responsibility to compensate accordingly for the benefit of the team. This “other-centered focus” helps with team moral and overall ensemble building because everyone is invested in looking out for their team when the mentality is mutual.

These basic rules of improvisation can drastically improve every part of your business without the 100 hours of “Leadership Training” lectures. Simply by using the techniques found in comedic improvisational performance, you can boost your team’s performance by having fun and applying new ideas. Remember: It’s all fun and games until someone revolutionizes the market with new and engaging thoughts!


©Will Hightower 2014

(This was written as an exercise in content creation to go with job applications)

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