The Art of Improvisation

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of improvisation?

You may think of improv comedy like the TV show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?", jazz music, or freestyle rap. Improvisation is a process - a way of creating something out of nothing. 

Now I know what you are thinking - how does this relate to my life? 

The skills needed to be a good improviser are very helpful skills needed for everyday life, because believe it or not, life is improvised. Here are the seven rules of improvisation to keep in mind:

1. Play 

We all knew how to do this when we were kids, but when we grow up we lose our sense of play. Play is not just about dolls or building blocks. Play is engaging in something because you like it, because it is fun and because it gives you a sense of meaning and enjoyment. During play, you are focused on what you are doing. When play becomes work, you start thinking about it, worrying about it, and you are no longer present in the moment. Remember life happens in the present - try to return to your playful roots this week by engaging in a playful activity you enjoy! 

2. Let yourself fail

We all fail. We all make mistakes. That is part of life. The important thing is to be okay with it and accept that failure is a natural part of life. The fear of failure is what takes us out of the present moment and into our minds worrying. Improvisers understand that failing doesn't mean you are failure. It means, "I messed up, I learned from my experience, and let's start again".  Try to apply this mindset next time you feel you've failed.

3. Listen 

Stephen Covey said it very beautifully when he said, "most of us don't listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply."

When you are listening to someone, consider taking yourself out of the equation. A good improviser listens with every aspect of their being, they are present in the moment and in the scene with the other person. And just like much of the work done in corporate environments, improvisation is about collaboration with other people. Instead of categorizing things into "your idea" and "my idea", it is about "the first idea, then the second idea". Try this at your next team meeting and see how it changes the team dynamics.

4.  Say Yes!

One of the most important tenets of improvisation is to say YES.  A series of yeses takes us somewhere. Saying even one "no" can create an instant roadblock.

5. Say And.....

Saying "yes" is great, but it is also important to follow with AND something else.  It is the "And -people" who take our ideas to a new level by giving us something else.  By listening and collaborating, you end up creating something that you could not have come up with on your own.  

6. Play the Game

Like any game, there are rules you have to follow. The same goes with life. You wake up in the morning, brush your teeth, eat breakfast, tell your partner you love them, go to work, pick up something for dinner, and you go to sleep. And then it repeats. Rules and structure help free up the rest of the time for improv.  For example, say you have to present a pitch at work. You have certain rules you have to follow.  You have to speak for a  specific amount of time on a chosen topic. Those rules help funnel your ideas and create a finished product leaving the rest up for you to improvise. 

7. Relax and Have Fun!

If you wake up every morning and tell yourself "there are some rules I need to follow", you are going to end up playing,  letting yourself fail, listening to people better because you are relaxed, you are going to end up saying yes, you are going to be saying and, and you are going to have fun.

Think about how these rules can be applied to your workplace. Pick one to try out over the next week and see how it goes! We'd love to hear about the outcome on your productivity, team dynamics and stress levels in the comments below. 




Morris, D. (2012 January 7). The Way of Improvisation. Retrieved from