Hysterical laughter erupts post scene – two students created a picnic moment that turned into a horror movie with a cult leader that believed ants were Gods. I was even in tears, laughing so hard my stomach ached – and truthfully, I can’t remember a time I laughed so hard before or since. The best part? These folks weren’t actors or comedians – they were entrepreneurs, in all different stages of their business from startup and ideation to folks who have been in business for 10+ years.
All of the entrepreneurs were taking this improv class to make them better at running their business – and for good reason! Aside from improv being the best boot camp in listening and interpersonal communication skills, five major improv rules are used daily by entrepreneurs.
Denial is death to improv. When you say no to a reality, an offering, a suggestion or idea in improv, you’ve killed the scene and the moment. Negation is the first thing you’re taught to avoid. While you’re not saying YES to being a doormat – you are saying yes to the possibilities.
When you start a new business or want to grow, you have to say yes. If you’re constantly making excuses and saying “no that won’t work” or “no we can’t do that” or “no, that’s not the way we work” you’re shutting down possibilities. Business 101: stay open to possibilities when you’re growing!
Make Statements, Mind Your Questions
Questions pass the buck. If you’re asking questions in improv, you’re confused: you might not know where something is going! Makes sense in real life, right? Ask a question and you can get answers from the people around you. Full stop: you’re passing the buck to the other people when you ask a question. When you make a statement, you’re not only taking initiative in a conversation, you’re also adding to it, and pulling your weight.
In business, there is a time and a place for questions and a time and place for declarative statements – and if you’re managing a team or making big choices (even smaller ones!) you have to take some initiative! The responsibilities around making choices for your business need to fall on you – sure, you can get help from folks, but in the end, a LOT of those decisions have to come from you.
Be Real, Not Funny
Probably one of the biggest misconceptions is that improv makes you funny. Nope, not one bit – when you try to be funny, you’re not, unless you ARE FUNNY. It’s pretty awful when someone who isn’t funny tries to be funny or tells jokes, but doesn’t understand comedic timing. What makes improv funny is the truth – when people are real, living the reality they create, THAT is funny. Not bad comedic timing – reality, and heightened reality at that is hysterical when you’re watching.
Fake and inauthentic entrepreneurs are, for lack of a better word, gross. You’ve read their posts, heard their talks and been bothered by their social media campaigns – probably all while saying “how are they still in business?!” When you’re running a business, your clients will be able to tell if you’re being real or pretending. And fake it till you make it can only get you so far.
When I was an improv performer, I performed off-Broadway. Know what one of the worst feelings in the world? Bombing in front of a full house. I still remember when I was running in as the ref of a competitive improv night and I tripped UP the stage. I didn’t fall down, I fell up.
And I can tell you after that night, I never once bit it jumping up on stage again.
Improv is best when people fail freely – you risk it all for the moment, and maybe it works, and maybe it bombs and you trip up the stage. You’ll never do it again.
The best entrepreneurs are the ones that risk failure: starting a business is a risk! You might lose time, money, friends – and you might gain everything by risking that failure. Even if you only lose face, it’s more than many people risk. The status quo? Not for you.
Follow the Fear
Quite literally, the phrase “Follow the Fear” comes from the great improv teacher Del Close. In improv, victory is on the other side of what makes you uncomfortable. That thing that scares you? Probably where the funny lies.
In entrepreneurship, things are going to scare you – from going full time to scaling up to hiring someone. Victory is on the other side of what makes you uncomfortable. That thing that scares you? Probably where your version of success lies.