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Improv at the office – say ‘yes’ and keep adding ideas

The comedy art of improv teaches thinking on your feet and going with the flow. Not bad skills for the office either.

Tina Fey’s book “Bossypants” is her funny autobiography on her life in general, and how she came to be the head writer at “Saturday Night Live” and executive producer and writer of her own hit show “30 Rock.” 

Here writing is hilarious, but I was surprised to find her sharing a bit of life and business advice, too. Fey started her career studying improv at The Second City in Chicago, the sketch comedy theater with so many famous alumni.

She takes a moment in one chapter to lay out the “Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life – And Reduce Belly Fat”:

  1. AGREE. “Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created… Now, obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But 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 a YES and see where that takes you.”
  2. YES, AND. “You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own… To me 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.”
  3. MAKE STATEMENTS. “This is a positive way of saying ‘Don’t ask questions all the time.’ If we’re in a scene and I say, ‘Who are you? Where are we?’ I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers. 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. That person is a drag.”   
  4. THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, ONLY OPPORTUNITIES. “If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up being a police hamster who’s been put on “hamster wheel” duty because I’m “too much of a loose cannon” in the field. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents.”
Free-wheeling, agreeable, solution-oriented – they’re all valuable in improv at the office, or whatever else you might be doing. And Fey provides another great reminder – keep your sense of humor. It reduces stress, keeps things in perspective, and keeps the scene – and your career or business – moving forward.

Have a great week.

Kindest regards,

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