Instructor Harrison Brookie explained the exercise on the first day: When you’re on stage doing a scene with someone, you and they have no idea where you’re going. The key is to keep adding on to what your scene partner said, rather than denying their statement and killing the scene.
Don’t Be Michael Scott
Improv Classmate 1: I’m looking for my doctor. He’s a tiny midget.
Michael Scott: BOOM! Agent Michael Scarn, I see through your ruse! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! [“shoots” people in improv scene]
Improv Classmate 2: I’m not even in this scene!
Michael Scott: BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! [classmate falls anyway]
Improv Instructor: Michael, c’mon, what are you doing?
Michael Scott: I’m making the scene better! The old scene was boring.
Improv Instructor: No it wasn’t Michael. Michael, give me your guns.
[Michael “unstraps” guns from four holsters]
Extending This Beyond Acting
This positive approach applies to business and to life.
When I’m writing Tweets or blog headlines, it’s easy to use “but” instead of “and.” Saying “but” has built in conflict, built-in drama. Like: “People say such-and-such…but here’s why they’re wrong: [link].”
Too much of that and you come across as a negative, pessimistic person that no one wants to work with.
I remember a particular group project in my undergrad business school. A team member was constantly looking for ways to criticize what we were doing. Honest feedback is vital, but (speaking of “but”!) he wasn’t contributing any solutions to help the team move forward.
In Business and Life in General: A Better Approach
Think about solving the problem, instead of dwelling on the negative:
- The project is two weeks behind. What would it take to get back on track?
- We accidentally sent an auto-unsubscribe email to 74,000 people. What would it take to respond to the crisis and retain the subscribers?
- We caused the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. What would it take to stop the oil? [actually, my heuristic might not be big enough for that]
What do you think?
Image credit: DSI, North Carolina’s Comedy Theater