The 9 Rules of Improv That Will Help Your Career

Most of us have heard of (if not seen) improvisational acting before.  While many would just consider it a theatrical art, its rules and techniques have a much broader application.  It may not always be theatrical, but it is definitely an art.

The following 10 rules, when properly used, can help give your career the edge it needs to get to the next level:

  1. Say “Yes, And…”: This is typical the first rule of improvisation. Saying yes to something someone in your work team wants to do (even when you don’t 100% love the idea)  builds trust and support.  The “And” is where you can add your input and leave your mark on the project.  Doing both together builds group cohesion and gets others to buy-in to your ideas later
  2. You can look good if your make your partner look good: In a scene, the better you make your partner look, highlighting the their skills, but better the scene will go.  The same is true in business. The better a team project is, the better the whole team is going to look.
  3. Tell a Story: It’s a fact that everyone loves storytelling in some shape or form. It helps ideas stick and before written language was the original way to pass along lessons and history.  When you are communicating an idea, tell a story, relate it to your audience and the message will stick.
  4. Make the Active Choice: Your career is about “doing” not “talking” or “planning.” Audiences inside and outside of work are drawn to doers.  Even if you are not successful 100% of the time, taking more action will ultimately lead to more positive results than staying stagnant
  5. Everyone is a Supporting Actor: This is an important lesson I learned early in my career.  Whenever I made things all about me and how good I could look, it left me open for office politicking and criticism but when I made it about the team and the vision we were all working toward then (almost magically) I got more support from people and the results were better.  It’s about playing off of each other, not competing against each other.
  6. Move Forward: When you are playing off of our co-workers and making active choices together, an almost outside force takes over to bring things along. Either way, the focus should be on going to the next level. In your career you shouldn’t allow yourself to get too comfortable. If you do that too often then you will miss out on opportunity and your will get behind. Don’t just argue and create conflict (see Rule #1), this stops the scene.  When disagreements at work arise (and they always will) focus on what is at the core of the conflict and make sure to move the conversation toward everyone’s common goal instead of making it personal.
  7. Listen: This is a simple but often forgotten rule.  Improv actors needs to actively listen to their fellow actors in a scene to find ways to move it forward. The way listening can give an actor ideas for what to say next, listening in a work setting can help you uncover important trends and find support of the ideas that you have.
  8. Change, Change, Change: I have said that change is really a “business as usual” state in the corporate world.  We all need to be comfortable and adapt with change to be successful. If our idea that everyone once loved now is put on the back burner for another area of focus, go with it (and do so following all the other roles listed).
  9. Know when to end the scene: This rule is more my own than one you would find as part of typical improv rule lists, but it is really key. It is important that we learn when it is time to move on to the next thing (the next project, position, company, stage in our lives).  This is also one of the most difficult things to do. We must remember to be patient and not move on to the next thing too early.  End at the right moment, end on a high note.  There is a reason why many athletes retire after winning the Super Bowl or World Series- it marks being at the apex of the mountain, and is an indicator of when to go climb another mountain.

For those who are interested, here are a few more rules… look at them in the context of work, you can see a great deal of crossover:

Remember of art of improv in how you approach your day-to-day work and career as a whole.

Mr. Biz, OUT!

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About Young Professional's Edge (YP Edge)

Aaron McDaniel is a corporate manager, entrepreneur, author, public speaker and community leader. Aaron has held numerous management roles at a Fortune 500 company, being appointed Regional Vice President at the age of 27, and is the founder of multiple entrepreneurial ventures. He is also the author of the book, The Young Professional's Guide to the Working World ( Aaron instructed a highly rated student-led course on leadership at UC Berkeley’s Haas Undergraduate School of Business and has a book, The Young Professional's Guide to the Working World: Savvy Strategies to Get In, Get Ahead, and Rise to the Top, due to be out later this year. Aaron offers advice that helps young professionals build the foundation for a successful career. Visit his blog, to learn more.

Posted on November 17, 2011, in Tips & Tricks and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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