Improvisation Yields Creativity

I am three classes away from finishing up my MBA. Three. While I’m thrilled to almost be finished, my last class has been really interesting. It's called “The Creative Process.” Throughout the semester, we’ve been discussing methodologies to generate ideas and the many different ways creativity can manifest itself. Yes, the title of the class is somewhat of an oxymoron. We all know there’s no one exact process to stamp out creativity (much to the demise of many MBA students).  

This week’s class was not in the classroom. It was at the Brave New Workshop. For those of you unfamiliar with the Brave New Workshop, they have been performing and producing sketch comedy and improvisation since 1958 – longer than any other theatre in the United States. In addition to their comedy theatre, the Brave New Workshop has expanded to include education (Brave New Institute) and corporate training (Brave New Workshop Creative Outreach).

While we were there, we learned about their creative process and how they come up with different ideas for sketch comedies. Their initial brainstorms include the entire cast and up to 300 ideas are quickly thrown on the table. The only rule is that the word “no” is not allowed. Once they’ve generated all of their initial ideas, they filter the list down to about 50 ideas they use to guide improvisation once on stage.

Improvisation. What an awesome concept. It forces people to think with the right side of the brain and fight the lizard brain simultaneously in real time. In order to succeed in an improvisational environment, people must be open and accepting of any and all ideas. Once they’ve embraced this, people then have to build on these ideas and help make them into stories. As one of the Brave New Workshop employees described it, “We don’t just create stories, we discover them.” 

Marketers can learn a lot from the idea of improvisation. It opens you up to ideas you might usually shy away from for whatever reason you deem appropriate. It forces you to build on ideas your colleagues have versus haltering creative momentum on the spot. It brings you to places you normally might not end up when brainstorming potential solutions to a problem. It encourages you to say “yes” more than no.”

Improvisation yields creativity. And it's the reason the Brave New Workshop's been in business for over fifty years.