Inclusion and Improv—Where the Top and Bottom Meet

Inclusion-ing the Best Ideas from Anywhere

“The best ideas can come from anywhere.” Everyone has heard that phrase, and most agree with it, at least publicly. But before a great idea can be acted upon, it needs to be presented. Then it needs to be heard.

Unfortunately, those two ideas—risk-free sharing and active listening—often don’t co-exist in a corporate hierarchal structure. Many don’t share their ideas because it’s not their place and fear that they won’t be accepted. Some at the top aren’t willing to listen, believing that leading is dictating what must be done. The most innovative and agile business environments are inclusive and have steered clear of this trap. But if you don’t have that culture now, how do you get there?

Improv Necessitates Inclusion

The basic tenet of improv, “Yes, And,” requires inclusion and that the participants work together. Instead of saying “no,” which effectively crushes the direction, they “Yes, And” what their partners give them. The result is that ideas continue to build and are explored deeper. Here are some ways that improv can teach any organization to become more inclusive.

Participate Positively – Your partners are counting on you to “Yes, And” (never “no” or “yes, but). You have to say or do something, anything, or else it’s over prematurely. And nobody wants it to be over prematurely.

Listen Actively – Building from the previous, you have to actively listen to what’s being laid before you in order to build the scene. If you are listening to respond and formulating something clever, you’ll miss key points. How smart is that?

Direct Collaboratively – Studies show that the best performing groups don’t have defined leaders. Because the lead in improv continuously jumps from person to person organically, anyone forcing themselves as a “leader” will block the flow. Grabbing the spotlight doesn’t work here, sharing does.

Act Empathetically – While improv encourages spontaneous interaction, becoming aware of how your actions impact those around you is critical. The goal is always to make it work. What you give is important. How you react and reach out help others when they need it, even more so.

Receive Graciously – What your partner presents you is known as a “gift” in improv. It’s what enables you to contribute to the scene. Like all gifts, we hope we get a really great one,  but that’s not always the case. Regardless, make the most of it. That’s how you’ll set up your partners for future success.

Fail Collectively – Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Things go off the rails and crash. It happens, but it’s a good thing—and in improv, no one person’s fault. Used iteratively, groups can start where the previous idea came unglued, repair it, and move forward, together.

The New Smarter Ensemble

“None of us is as smart as all of us.” That truism has been born out time and again, from the collective intelligence of crowds to sports where collective-minded ensembles defeat individually-minded teams with superstars. Recognizing these facts and applying the improve principles above can enable any organization to have more engaged associates and increase innovation.


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