Change Happens. Get Unstuck. Lessons from Improv.

It’s so easy to get stuck. Stuck complaining about the assignment that keeps changing. Stuck angry that someone else is screwing up your project. Stuck focused on the stuff that isn’t going as planned. Stuck wishing things were different.

Everywhere I’ve ever worked (and it’s been three industries, so don’t think ad agencies are different in this regard), I’ve seen people get caught up in this way of thinking.

But all that does is keep you stuck.

Yesterday, the Change Happens: Improv for an Unpredictable World session, led by Amanda and Jordan Hirsch of THINK IMPROV was a great lesson in unsticking.

Here’s the stolen-from-improv advice in web-friendly bulletted list form:

  • Life is improv. We’re all making it up as we go.
  • Forget the script in your head. No one else has it, so no one else is going to defer to it.
  • If you expect the unexpected, you disarm change.
  • “Yes, and…” This phrase/thought creates forward movement.
    • Yes — You have to accept the reality of your circumstances. If your improv partner says its cold and you argue that it’s hot, all you get is arguing. Not so fun for an audience to watch.
    • And — You have to build on that reality. Continuing the scene with “Yeah, it’s really cold,” is also pretty boring. Likewise, if a boulder drops in the middle of your path, you can spend your time complaining about the boulder or figuring out a way around it.
    • Recent foodie example: I think this is one of the secrets to *spoiler alert* Paul Qui’s Top Chef win (that and delicious food, of course). When his dishes got screwed up, which just happens sometimes, he didn’t freeze up or waste time wishing things were different. He just moved on to plan b.
    • Even more recent this post example: This weird line is showing up right after this bullet point, but I am letting go and moving on to publishing this thing.
  • Having an objective gives you direction for figuring out what comes after the “and.” When your circumstances change, step back and think about what you wanted in the first place. Change tactics, not goals.
  • Bring “Yes, and…” to the party. You don’t have to be in charge to change the tone of things. You can lead from any position.
  • React quickly and trust your instincts, and others will trust you too.


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