Using Improv Principles when Ideating

“I’m not creative”,“I have a hard time brainstorming in a group”. So many people, including me, feel this way. In the increasing number of new product development ideation sessions we conduct with our clients, we are finding that the “set up” process is just as important as the actual ideation. “Using improv principles” helps us guide the team to think outside the box and successfully build off one another’s ideas. Here is a list of Improv Principles that we regularly use and believe help create successful ideas during an ideation or brainstorm session:

  1. Yes And…
  2. Be Present
  3. Have Fun
  4. Be Open to Failing
  5. Adapt
  6. Justify Other’s thinking
  7. Trust the Process…and yourself

The first and most important principle to follow is justifying others thinking by continually saying “yes, and….” We have found that by using this technique, it allows team members to build ideas, not kill them. It makes each team member feel comfortable and open to sharing his or her ideas – no matter how outlandish they may be. In an article titled 4 Improv Principles That Could Skyrocket Your Career, the founder of Improv on the Job, Taren Sterry states, “this principles is about accepting and building on what is offered. It’s about listening fully, then responding. It’s about investing in what’s happening in the now.”

Another similar principle we try to encourage during ideation sessions is “justify others thinking”. Most of our clients spend a lot of time having to justify their own thinking but when we brainstorm, the opposite is needed. Justifying others thinking helps everyone to get into the spirit of opening up so that ideas flow more freely.

To Build off this principle, another important thing for teams to remember is to “be present and in the moment” when ideating. It is hard for employees to shut off for an entire day, but if they are distracted by their phone or answering emails it negatively impacts the ideas generated and doesn’t help to solve the problem at hand.

Lastly, “openness to failing” is a very important principle. If members are worried that their idea will be mocked or dismissed, they are likely to retract and not offer additional ideas. If everyone is in agreement that “there are no bad ideas” the ideation session will have a positive spirit that encourages sharing and building ideas.

While all the improve principles listed above are important, we have found that the few described in detail have the biggest impact on successful sessions and help create an atmosphere that best fosters brainstorming. The key is getting team members to open up, trust the process and most importantly HAVE FUN! Once the team does this, they will trust themselves and produce better ideas.