Innovation: What Can We Learn from Improvisational Comedy?

Hola Todos!

You never really know where a great nugget will come from and when I was reading Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants (actually, I was listening to it in the car), her description of improvisational comedy sounded like something that would be very useful for coming up with new ideas.  First, I will paraphrase her thoughts from the book and second, I will give you my interpretation on how improv could fit with innovation.


The Rules of Improvisation

The first rule of improv is to AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES.  When improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created.  The Rule of Agreement reminds you to respect what your partner has created and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with YES and see where that takes you.

The second rule of improvisation is to not only say yes, but to also say YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own.  YES AND means, “Don’t be afraid to contribute.”  It’s your responsibility to contribute.  Always make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.  Your initiations are worthwhile.

The third rule is to MAKE STATEMENTS.  This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” In other words, whatever the problem, be part of the solution.  Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We’ve all worked with that person and that person is a drag.

The final rule of improvisation is THERE ARE NO MISTAKES only opportunities. In other words, there are no mistakes, only happy accidents.  And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident.  I mean, look at Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Botox. 

I could not write down these ideas when in the car so I went to the library and took out the book to get the word-for-word translation.  I thought these four rules would work well when the task at hand was to develop totally new ideas from scratch. When people are positive, the creative juices flow. Having teammates add something to your original idea will take it somewhere you didn’t expect it to go. Not asking questions or being negative will keep the stop signs from popping up. And not worrying if the idea is a good one or a mistake will free those cognitive juices up to focus on idea development.

Something to try at work today…

Best regards,

Dr. Dan-o


Daniel M. Ladik, Ph.D.,

Associate Professor of Marketing

Stillman School of Business

Seton Hall University