Friday, June 29, 2012

The Humor in Business: How Does Improv Relate to Startups?

When the word “improv” comes to mind, you may think silly, raucous and spontaneous. But these are the exactly words that should come to mind.  Modern day improv started in Chicago by jobless actors who didn’t have parts, but still wanted to perform.  But improv’s roots go all the way back to the days of Commedia dell'Arte, a form of theater characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century.

But how does all of this relate to business and entrepreneurship?  When you sit down and think about it, improv and business don’t really go hand-in-hand. But the rules of improve, on the other hand, do. The funny scenes that take place on an improv stage are all created either from a suggestion from the audience or sometimes, out of thin air. The performers on stage are very funny people, but the rules are what help them create. These same rules can be applied to business and everyday life.  In the long run, these rules will help you grab a hold of opportunities and think big! So without further ado, here are five rules of improv that will make you a better businessperson:
  1. Don’t Deny: Keep an open mind at all times. When a problem comes along, accept the fact that it happened and approach it head-on. In improve, this is often referred to “Yes, and…”. When you refuse what has dealt to you, success and chances for creativity come to a grinding halt.
  2. The Rules of Question-Asking: When doing an improv scene, you may ask your partner an open-ended question.  This usually makes your partner stop what they’re doing and think of a witty answer.  Usually, this wastes time and hinders creativity. But how can “avoiding questions relate to entrepreneurship?”  Keep in mind that questions are important, but coming to quick, on-the-fly, smart answers on your own will most benefit you and help you learn.
  3. Listen: While an improv scene is getting started, a lot of information is given so the performer can figure out who they are to one another, where they are and what’s going on. In everyday conversation, people are often planning ahead rather than really listening.  At work it's easy to be distracted by computer, Blackberries and iPhones. Focused listening is a crucial skill for both performers and entrepreneurs. 
  4. Share your ideas: if one performer is doing all the heavy lifting and only throwing out their own ideas they’d be better of just doing stand-up. When collaborating with others you have to contribute if you want things to go where you want them to. The goal is the ability to reach a group mind where ideas are free flowing but within the same realm.
  5. Read people like a book: The way your partner is carrying themselves will give you clues to where you are and who you are to them. Eye contact is essential. In the workplace it's important to pay attention to body language. Even on the phone you can pick up clues as to how the other person feels. It’s not what they say it’s how they say it.
Improv is all about keeping your mind open to new ideas and working with others, with the ultimate goal of being funny and entertaining your audience. When done in business the goal is success. No one ever said you can’t laugh along the way.

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