I Don’t Need A(n) MBA, I Took Improv

Originally published on LinkedIn.

‘on set with actors’ by Sharyn Morrow licensed under CC BY 2.0

I was a theater major in college. This won’t surprise some people, and might mystify others (what does that have to do with technology?!). Over the years, I performed in musicals, dramas, and comedies. I slowly learned how to hold an audience and keep people engaged. And I don’t regret a minute of it.

In fact, I think theater gave me an edge in business.

Improv, specifically, was where I learned one of my favorite lessons — and business tactics. And I’m not alone: In “Bossy Pants,” Tina Fey talked about how valuable improv was to her not only as a performer, but as a Lady Boss. This was really validating, and, of course, made me realize I should have been saying that same thing louder all these years.

So, what is it about improv? It’s the “yes, and.”

“Yes, and” is the first rule of improv. The premise is that an actor must accept what another participant has stated (“yes”), and then expand on that line of thinking (“and”). Accept, expand. On repeat. It’s core to improv not because it guarantees something funny will unfold (because we’ve all been to improv that isn’t funny), but because by saying yes, “we accept the reality created by our partners and begin the collaborative process.”

And that’s the key to bring back to business: accept the reality created…and begin the collaborative process. ‘Yes’ sets the stage for collaboration; ‘and’ lays the groundwork for expansion and growth, together. In a service business, this skill is a must.

No is a conversation stopper.

Yes alone is taking orders.

And alone doesn’t show you understand the other person.

‘Yes, and’ requires empathy and new thinking. It requires that you put some skin in the game and make yourself vulnerable by sharing new ideas. It’s extending your hand and saying, “let’s do this.”

Now that I’m talking about it, maybe ‘yes, and’ is a life skill, not a business skill.