Improv rules for everyday application

In my earlier career of teaching, I developed an Improv ensemble in my school system who were admirably received from the community.

The scads of improv exercises and techniques these kids explored and developed through were huge tools for keeping their skills in check – and offered them great fun!

Yet there were two simple rules that held the great improv member apart from those simply there to “have fun”:

1. Accept what is given to you.
2. Make your partner look good.

These aren’t easy practices to follow, based on the general public’s philosophy in life – generally around competing. Especially for teens and young adults, the idea of accepting vs. questioning/attacking is foreign. At least when the focus is in topics of interest.

Making your partner look good could be a common practice, if and when conversation is about sharing complimentary opinions. Yet this idea is not about judgment – it’s about building on ideas. Once we accept an idea – per the first rule – we then further it with our own idea. This creates a trusting relationship while complimenting the original idea, giving strength to the originator’s value.

When these 2 rules are applied, the levels of entertainment, creativity and connection all escalate. It keeps energy fluent and momentous.

Going back to the first rule, if an idea is not accepted, energy stops. And this stops creativity. What soon happens is a battering of negative energy. Consider the difference in the two exchanges below.

A “Gotta love this rain.”

B “No I don’t.”


A “Gotta love this rain.”

B “Especially when these umbrellas keep popping up out of the ground.”

What difference in allowing for creative flow, entertainment, charged focus when we accept the ideas given us!

Not about one-upping yet more about making good use of an originating idea. My ensemble often played the game, Yes, And… which tested their ability to keep the energy moving in a speedy structure. It became one of their favorites and complimented their approach to everyday conversation.

The places we go when we choose to accept ideas vs. question them gave my young improv group a space to build trusting, exploratory expression. And it gave audiences a chance to enter this safe, trusting space, in awe of the creative flow and applauding its outcome.

Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University speaks to the concept of applying Improv rules to Creativity in the work environment. (click on the title to see a video and text of his talk – Tips for Creative Success from Pixar). The wealth of progress we could accomplish in our everday professional life, our everyday personal life and our ability to connect with people could be endless, were we to apply these two rules of improv.

Consider accepting what is given to you. How would this apply to your professional circumstances, especially if you were to build on it vs. shut down? When we operate with the intention of making those around us look good, what is created?Test this out. You will see your improv skills tested, enjoyed and appreciated.

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On August 27th, 2010, posted in: Connecting, move forward, trust by