The world lost two brilliant comedians this past summer, Joan Rivers and Robin Williams, each leaving a legacy of laughter. But as comedians, their contributions to our daily lives are potentially far greater.
As it happens, the strategies comedians use to entertain us can vastly improve our daily workplace interactions – and brainstorms. In fact, by following a few tried and true rules of comedy, you can motivate your team to contribute more, and better, ideas.
Just say “yes.”
One of the first rules of improv is “Don’t block.” For a scene to work, you have to move it forward – together. Saying “no” forces the scene to a halt.
Similarly, the biggest impediment to a great brainstorming session is not inexperience or a lack of creativity. It’s “no.”
Although usually well-intentioned, “That won’t work…” crushes ideas before they’ve had a chance to hatch and signals there’s a right and wrong answer. Thought filtering and a deafening roar of crickets commence.
While some ideas are truly veto-worthy, try to go with them – if only for a minute. Consider the lead balloon lobbed into the room and ask, “If I absolutely had to, how could I make this fly?” Absurdity ensues, which does two important things. It forces new ways of thinking creatively, and it creates a culture of trust, where participants are comfortable sharing ideas.
Say “Yes, and…”
In improvisational comedy, students are taught not only to say “yes,” but to say, “yes, and…” The thought is to embrace your teammate’s contribution to the scene and push it forward. In a brainstorm, “and” can enhance a simple thought with the substance it needs to become a legitimate idea. A few more “ands” can turn that idea into a campaign. With an unimaginative thought as your starting point, “yes, and…” will help you push ideas forward, taking them from boring to brilliant.
Rule of three and the unexpected.
Consider comedian Laura Kightlinger’s line, “I can’t think of anything worse after a night of drinking than waking up next to someone and not being able to remember their name, or how you met, or why they’re dead.”
It’s what comedians call the “comedic triple” or “rule of three.” It establishes a pattern and lands a laugh with an unexpected twist.
In brainstorming, while “yes, and…” pushes your campaigns forward, the rule of three makes them buzz-worthy.
Once you have a baseline idea, force yourself to look for three different ways to implement it. Instead of merely passing hors d’oeuvres at an event, can you have a food truck? Serve from helado carts? Or have roving “vending” machines? Many of these ideas will end up on the cutting room floor. But giving your team the license to explore will yield vastly better results than accepting “good enough.”
Okay. So there’s not really a rule in comedy that says have fun. In fact, the process can be quite painful. But, the next time you’re faced with leading a creative mission, remember to think like a comedian. Say yes, take things too far and throw in a few curve balls. It could make the difference between a mediocre brainstorming session and an inspired one.
-Tiffany Heikkila, PR Account Supervisor