As a former drama club geek, I know that the many improv exercises I experienced in school gave me an advantage when I had to problem solve on-the-fly or participate in a brainstorm. These principles of improv might not get you a career in comedy, but they can definitely get you out of your comfort zone and into the best frame of mind for creative thinking.
Brainstorming isn’t about shouting out clever ideas. It’s about collaboration. The goal is for participants to contribute good ideas which requires listening. Whether its listening to the brainstorming instructions, the background information required to create ideas or building on the ideas of those around you, it all takes listening.
Someone just proposed an idea. You could move on and suggest another idea, or you could build on their idea. Exploring the possibilities of one simple idea can sometimes lead to an even better idea, or the discovery of a great idea. It’s a mistake to assume that your next thought is more worthwhile or that ideas should stand on their own without contributions from others. Build on ideas and better ones emerge.
Improv is not a one man show; and neither is business. The ability to respect the ideas of others and feel safe enough to share your own ideas is crucial to the success of a brainstorm or working in a creative environment. Ideas developed by a team are often better than those developed alone. Collaboration makes good ideas better and can often generate game-changing ideas. There’s always room for individual achievement but group collaboration creates exponential success.
A brainstorm is a place where there are no bad ideas. Reasons why something won’t work and negativity around specific ideas kills creativity. If people think their ideas will be shot down or worry that an idea isn’t good enough, they won’t share. And if those ideas aren’t shared, the entire group misses the opportunity to explore them. Don’t kill creativity by blocking. If you want a better office culture that fosters idea generation, consider the merit of every idea.
The source of comedy in an improv scene is not about one person or what they say- it’s born from the relationship between two performers. That’s why great comedy teams often work together in harmony for years—they’ve built an amazing rapport that encourages communication and collaboration. These performers respect each other’s ideas and process, and are receptive to feedback and sharing the spotlight. A great creative culture in a brainstorm or workplace requires those same relationship qualities. Seek to foster collaboration and partnership and you’ll find your team consistently delivering great ideas—ones that are attributable to the group, not an individual.
At the beginning of every brainstorm or problem-solving session, take time to outline the assignment, goals and roadblocks you anticipate. If the performers in a scene don’t understand the assignment, or what needs to be achieved, they will not be able to deliver a great performance. The same goes for your team. Focus on the assignment and keep the group on task to avoid being sidetracked by good ideas that have nothing to do with the assignment. Provide your team up the critical information they need to brainstorm with intention.
In improv, being in character means committing to your choice and building on it. In a brainstorm, being in character means thinking or looking at things or situations from the target audience’s perspective. Put yourself in the shoes of the person who may try or buy the product or service you’re marketing and then think about their values, needs and purchasing habits. Or put yourself in the client’s shoes and think about the types of ideas that will best reach their customers. Or pretend you’ve never heard of the brand before and evaluate what’s being sold with fresh eyes. Getting yourself out of your comfort zone can be useful exercise to gain new perspectives and create relevant ideas.
If you’re asking your scene partner questions, you’re making them do the work. Every brainstorm involves answering some questions, but if your team is asking multiple questions or if the person leading the brainstorm is having to ask a lot of question to try and draw out ideas, something’s wrong. Either the assignment was not explained properly, or the person leading the brainstorm is trying too hard to pump the team for ideas. Both those situations hamper creativity. When this happens, take a break or do a quick-thinking exercise about something unrelated, then come back to the assignment, explain it again, and let the ideas flow.
Just as an improv scene will collapse if everyone’s frozen in uncertainty, a brainstorm won’t succeed if everyone is holding back. If you’re a participant in a brainstorm, throw out an idea. Say something—any thought that pops into your head, no matter how ridiculous , might trigger an idea that can be built into something great. A brainstorm’s potential is never fully realized until everyone feels free to share all types of ideas—even wacky ones. Overcoming self-doubt and helping others not sensor if their ideas are “worthy” can build an incredible working environment that bursts with creativity.