The Improv Comedy Approach to Successful Brainstorming and Collaboration

“I always tell people, don’t try to be funny.”

When groups collaborate there is often a tendency for some members to immediately throw up metaphorical stop signs and barriers, even if unconsciously. “That idea was tried before and didn’t work,” is a classic sucking-the-air-out-of-the-room moment most of us have encountered.

Enter Michael Jastroch, one of the comedy improv trainers from Austin’s Coldtowne Theater, who teaches work teams to play off of new ideas rather than stomping on them like a cockroach. The principle is taught by letting participants pair off for some low-stress improvisation. “I always tell people, don’t try to be funny,” he says. “The important thing is to build on the flow of ideas, and good stuff just naturally pops up.”

He forces the improv pairs to use a structure called “Yes, and…” Each person takes turns in the improvisation, and no matter what the one says, the other has to reply by saying, “Yes, and…”

My work team took a stab at it during a department retreat led by Jastroch. The first pair of volunteers took the stage and began:

1: I have a neighbor who smokes cigars in her back yard.
2: Yes, and I think you should consider smoking cigars, too.
1: Yes, and perhaps you should try some new things once in a while.

Notice how the idea moved from smoking cigars to trying new things in just one exchange. An idea can evolve quickly into something useful if it is given the chance to develop, and no one feels like their contribution has been discarded. (And by the way, that simple conversation had the whole team laughing, thanks to a bit of emotional nuance in the delivery.)

Notice that the phrase isn’t “Yes, BUT…” which would essentially squash the previous person’s contribution and change the direction of the conversation. “Yes, and…” is additive, letting the idea grow and be refined without losing the essence of the other person’s contribution.

  1. I’ve never dated anyone I’ve met online before.
  2. Yes, and I’ve dated over a hundred people this way.
  3. Yes, and (throwing hands in air) I don’t know what to say to that.
  4. Yes, and perhaps I shouldn’t tell you the first 99 dates were all in the last twenty minutes.

Applying the principle of “Yes, and…” as a beginning spot for a brainstorm session will help avoid the deadly slings and arrows of negativity that often afflict group work sessions.

Coldtowne Theater offers a free, hour-long class on Monday evenings starting at 7:00 pm at the theater located on 4803-B Airport Blvd. “It’s a lot of what we do in our workshops, minus some of the direct practical discussion,” Jastroch explains. “It’s a fun time.”

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One thought on “The Improv Comedy Approach to Successful Brainstorming and Collaboration”

  1. Pingback: Yes, and…

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