What Can Improvisation Teach Us?

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  • February 25, 2013
  • INK Team

This post comes from INK intern Seth Caldwell.

I like making things up. As a long-time comedic improver and fan of Whose Line is it Anyway? I’ve had my fair share of laughs on and off the stage. Comedy isn’t the only area where improvers shine however; in fact I believe that modern careers require improvisation every day.

Improv is as old as performance itself and our collective imaginations have run wild since cavemen made wild fashionable. Nowadays, people limit their perception of improv to swanky theater venues but the theories behind what make improv a magical experience are firmly rooted in every day life.

We’ve all heard the expression “Think outside the box,” but what improv teaches us to do is to use the contents of the box (even if they’re non-existent), or better yet to turn the box into something entirely new. This insight comes from an article touting the importance of promoting free-form brainstorming techniques by Janet Rae-Dupree, contributor for The New York Times.

In today’s business environment, those who thrive adapt quickly to change and think on their feet. Most technological advancements don’t reinvent the wheel but rather they build upon what’s out there already. This is an idea that is fundamental to improv but has many applications in our meeting rooms as well.

The concept is known as “Yes, and…” but some think of it as avoiding denials. Think of any Whose Line episode you’ve ever seen. Each performer adds their ideas to the scene by building upon the previous performer’s addition. These offers are accepted and then constructively developed into new, altogether better ideas.

This model is key to fostering creativity within the workplace. Organizations and communicators have been taking note, especially now when news travels faster than ever before. With the public’s insatiable appetite for news in real time, communication professionals need to tone their improv muscles to be ready at a moment’s notice.

Take Oreo’s reaction to the power outage during this year’s Super Bowl for example. The advertising team responded immediately, tweeting an ad reading “You can still dunk in the dark,” that generated a ton of buzz on Twitter with over 15,000 retweets.

Oreo Dunk in the Dark Ad

INK’s own Rachael Shappard brought up another wonderful example in her latest blog post concerning the recent hackings of the Twitter accounts of international corporations Burger King and Jeep.  A lesser-known development in response to the huge press generated by the hacks was the intentional swapping of BET and MTV’s Twitter profiles. Although deceiving and ethically debatable, their quick reaction gained the companies some attention without the serious implications of a major security breach.

Timeliness and relevancy are nothing new to the public relations field, but we typically don’t consider ourselves improvers. Let’s change this. Step #1: Stop denying. Step#2: Rap battle.