Many years ago, I studied improv comedy with Second City in Toronto, and I performed regularly when I lived in Ireland. In Nashville, I am a mentor for start-ups participating in the popular business accelerator, Jumpstart Foundry. You are probably curious how the two are connected, right? A blog post by my friend, Suzan Murphy, inspired me to consider how improv can be used in start-ups. I recommend you take a moment to visit her site to read, “How Improv Can Help You Achieve Your Goals“.
The following are three ways improv is related to business. Consider these three items when starting your own company.
1. Yes, And. How to accept items and keep moving ahead.
In improv acting, there is a common technique called “Yes, And”. The gist of the rule is you must accept everything your partners give you in order to make the audience believe in the scene. For example, if an actor was performing an improv scene and gave his partner on stage an (invisible) apple and said, “Here is the apple you ordered, sir.” The audience would believe that the object he was now holding was an apple. However, if he replied “No, it’s not an apple.”, it would confuse the audience (and frustrate the other actor). Instead improv actors always use the “Yes, and” rule.
Successful founders do this too. They accept the questions from investors, feedback from customers, and advice from staff. Of course you must answer honestly!
“Yes, and we plan to earn an additional $20,000 this quarter.” “Yes, and our product will be updated to accommodate your favorite platform.” “Yes, and we need a foosball table in the break room.”
2. Picking a great team and knowing when to pivot the scene.
In improv acting, you are only as good as your teammates. Understanding each other and the ability to read one another is crucial. It is under these circumstances that you know to continue a scene or to change the direction. For example, an audience may not be connecting with the current premise of the scene. You should sense this and change things quickly to keep their attention.
Your team members, especially your co-founders, help you determine if and when to pivot your business model to meet the needs of an unexpected customer base or technical failure beyond your control.
3. When an idea doesn’t work.
“Who’s Line is it Anyway?” may fool you into thinking that every scene the improv actors perform is a winner. We forget that not all scenes make the show, the weak ones are always cut. Not every scene is going to go well. The art of improv acting teaches you when to know to pull the plug. Monty Python famously added an angry Colonel who would enter a scene to declare that it is too silly and must stop, and the scene would abruptly end.
In business, it is also important to decide when an idea is no longer working. Not all ideas will succeed, this is a fact of life. However, with a strong team of positive, creative thinkers, you have a good chance of receiving a standing ovation from your customers and investors.