In her best-selling memoir Bossy Pants, Tina Fey devotes an entire chapter to the “Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat.” There is a reason for her praise (which has nothing to do with weight control)—Fey credits much of her success in TV her ability to improvise; to listen and build ideas with
other people, and to take risks both creatively and personally. Apparently she isn’t the only high profile person to utilize this non-traditional approach. The New York Times recently published a feature about how Twitter’s unconventional CEO Dick Costolo uses improv in the running of his billion-plus dollar company. Before becoming involved in the tech world he was a comedian and improviser.
Having recently completed an Improv course at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York City, I can tell you that besides the thrill of performing without a script, improv teaches skills that translate quite well into the often hectic and competitive worlds that the copywriter inhabits.
Here is some of what I learned.
1. Be brave even when you are unsure. Clients and creative directors and bosses want you to deliver ideas with enthusiasm and passion. Throw something out there and do it with authority. And don’t be defensive if they don’t go for it. Have a back-up.
2. Look people in the eye, especially when they are speaking. Acknowledge them.
3. Listen. I can’t tell you how many “brainstorm” meetings I have been at where people talk over one another. Or worse, the creative try to out cool one another. Here is what you should do instead: when someone in the room throws out an idea, say, “That’s a great idea. What if we take that same theme and add X.” Not only do you make your coworker feel good about him or herself, you also act as a leader. It’s a good way to get a promotion.
4. Don’t be afraid to look like an asshole. Great ideas come from people taking risks.
5. If you are stuck, start with the stupidest ideas first. Trying to be smart often gets in the way of good work.