Think Fast! How Improv Can Help You Innovate

We all know what improv is. It’s a form of acting where actors create scenes and characters on the spot, generally inspired by one word or a simple phrase.

But how does improv relate to what you do every day at work? And what lessons can you learn from improv as a young federal employee?

NIH employee and improv actress Katie Rush answered these questions this morning during a lighting session at NextGen.

She explained that she started doing improv because she really wanted to get outside of her comfort zone and try something different. While she was able to do these things, she also said that she has learned three important and valuable lessons since she started:

Support the Ensemble – In improv, you look good by making your fellow improvisers look good. If you are only focused on your own performance on stage, the whole show can suffer. At work, you can spend a lot of time writing an individual development plan and focusing on your own goals and never check in with those around you. When this happens, everyone in the office can wind up working in his or her own silo and opportunities can be lost. If you strive to support the “ensemble” that makes up your office, you can benefit.

Learn to say “Yes, and …” – This might sound odd, but uttering the words “yes, and …” can actually help you immensely. When you utter this phrase, it means that you’re starting from a place of open-mindedness while building on the ideas of others. “Yes, and …” does not mean that you need to put your own ideas on hold or blindly follow others, but it does allow you to recognized the value in what others have to say.

Accept that the Unexpected Will Happen … and Adapt – That old adage about life imitating art is certainly true. In improv, very little is planned – and sometimes life can be like this, too. If you accept that circumstances can change, stop for a second to get your bearings, and strive to keep going, you will be better equipped to turn challenges into opportunities.

Rush said that once you accept these principles, it isn’t that hard to put them into practice, “You don’t have to be an actor to be a great improviser.”

So, what would your work day be like if you really put these ideas into play every day?

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Andrew Krzmarzick

I was just in a conversation where we used “Yes, and…” Real time application of this principle! 🙂

Samantha Holquist

I love the third lesson because it is so true! Unexpected things always occur, especially when things are really well planned out, the best way to deal with them is accept them and adapt quickly!

Kim Truong

Improv is a great example of putting yourself out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself to be creative. Maybe you’re funnier than you think too!