A Lesson from Improv: Accept All Offers

I haven’t been taking my own advice of breaking seemingly big things into smaller pieces. In the last month, I’ve gone to several influential trainings and talks ready to be blogged about. I had this lofty idea to combine them into one post, but I think that feat seemed so big I’ve never gotten around to it, so today I’ll just review one of the them.

In May, I went to a workshop by Dan Klein at Stanford entitled, Improvisation: Collaborative Creativity and the Art of Making Stuff Up. The experience was a bit of a game changer for me in that it’s shifted the ways I’m approaching my every day life. He reviewed some basic improv principles.

Our first exercises caused us to think about how often we say “no” or “yes, but,” which turns out to be a no in reality. This thinking made me reflect upon how many times I’ve heard “yes, but” in the workplace, especially right after someone brings up an issue or idea. We practiced some exercises where our job was not to be inspired, but to inspire our partner through building sentences. The message really resonated with me on being an active follower.

Around coming up with ideas and tackling problems, Dan had many catch phrases and words of wisdom including:

  • imagination is as easy as perception
  • raise the stakes. allow it to be important
  • don’t fight against the cat (when you’re trying not to think about something in particular and it’s all you can think about)
  • every exercise is a good excuse for a debrief
  • be average, be obvious
  • how do you signal status in your interactions

When he noted that this is where you end up:

Yes = adventure

No = safety

It makes the choice pretty clear that Yes is the way to go. It doesn’t mean you are always committing to the idea, but that you’re open to dialogue and newness. One of my favorite exercises we did was one designed for a group to constantly make mistakes when you’re ‘on stage.’ The idea was for us to go through messing up over and over again, failing cheerfully, and taking a bow. It was pretty fun to go through the motions and actually raise your voice with a “ta da!” for my actions. Improvisers love mistakes and think about how they can use them to their advantage. Of course, this also has implications for our daily work life.

Most impactful for me about the workshop was saying yes more often and accepting all offers from the world. When something falls into your lap personally or professionally, why not give it a chance and see what happens? Opening doors can only show you the possibilities life has to offer you. I challenge you all to think about accepting offers that come your way.

If you prefer a video recap of improv, watch Jane Lynch’s commencement address to Smith College.

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