Why Your Brainstorm Was Mired In Fog

Brainstorm mired by fog

Brainstorming sessions sound like a great idea. People imagine that they’ll get the best minds together, everyone will throw out great ideas, magic will be created, and they’ll arrive at newest, best-est idea ever as a team.

The fact is that this is almost never what happens. Instead, there is a lot of awkward staring in a silent room. Maybe the expected person will contribute some nonstarters,  someone else will ball-hog the air in the room, and another will play defense in support of their idea. The result is more of a wet blanket of fog rather than a downpour and flood of ideas. That’s not what anyone signed up for. And it’s not productive.

Improv Fuels Better Brainstorming Output

The principles of improv are ideal for brainstorming because they enable creation in the moment to further the ideas presented.  What many people fail to realize is that while the improv they’ve seen on stage might be created in the moment, there is a structure and principles that guide the creation. And practice. Lots of practice. Because the artists embrace the principles, they can run with it and make it look easy. Here are four thoughts from improv to be aware of before your next brainstorming session. They create a foundation for inclusion, awareness, and moving creative ideas forward.

This is our idea – Realize from the beginning that this is going to be our project, not your project. It’s “we,” not “I.” There’s a saying at the Second City, “bring a brick, not a cathedral.” That encourages participants that they need to bring an idea or thought, not a fully formed production. Allow space for the group to add their expertise and perspective to reach the best final product, or they’ll stop contributing.

Let go of the wheel – If you try to steer this thing you’ll wreck it. Improv and brainstorming sessions should have a natural flow. It will and should bump up against the edges of what’s acceptable and realistic. If it doesn’t, you and the team aren’t there yet. Trying to wrestle control will keep you from pushing ideas to where true inspiration and insight flourish. That’s not to say they can’t benefit from guidance, but trust the process. Give this horse his head to run.

Make it a safe place – Some of the ideas and paths are going to fail, but everyone has to overcome any fear associated with that fear.  You need the off-base crazy ideas as well—they just might be the catalyst that takes the idea a leap further and sets it apart. And they need to be presented and heard without judgment. Starting with the mindset, “what if this was a good idea—where would it go next?” and Yes, And-ing what comes next allows the team to explore it together without judgment.

Set the stage for success – Not considering the group dynamics and structure is one of the biggest barriers to success. No professional troop would throw a newbie onto the stage of the main act cold. It’s the same with your business team. When you’re teaching new skills, you break the process into smaller and manageable steps. For brainstorming that might require time in smaller groups and attention to the balance and make-up of the groups. Pushing associates out of their comfort zone is is key to getting the best ideas, but push too hard too soon and they’ll shut down and not contribute.

Improv A Better Brainstorm

The result of an improv-based brainstorm is that more people are included, invested in the project, and contributing. Employers get the full benefit of the creative minds they hired. Associates get to do what they enjoy most. And the number and quality of ideas will surpass by many factors of those created in meetings stuck in a brain fog without improv.

Inclusion and Improv—Where the Top and Bottom Meet

improv improves inclusion

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.


Why the C-Suite Hit Snooze on Your D&I Initiative and “Woke” Alarm

Why your diversity and inclusion initiative failed

Diversity creates more resilient organizations. Inclusion builds more agile teams. And C-suites everywhere hear the alarm bells ringing—and smack the snooze button again, and again. Why aren’t your diversity and inclusion initiatives getting the urgency they deserve? It could be any of the following.

1. It’s Not Lit And They’re Woke

Kidding .. what does that even mean? But it could be that the language you use to describe the diversity and inclusion initiative doesn’t resonate with your audience. If it isn’t speaking their language about the business initiatives they care about, they’ll tune it out.  “Because it’s the right thing to do,” might not enter into a business person’s field of vision. That is until it impacts the bottomline—and it ultimately will. Talk about their immediate responsibilities for innovation, agility and stronger teams. If you’re talking to those who value being “woke,” they already get it.

2. Not Funny. Not Different. Not Fun. Hard Pass.

Roll out “another Powerpoint step by step methodology to tell me blah, blah, blah that I already know” and watch the eyes glaze over. If they show up. You’re not going to get buy-in. Everyone certainly has better things to do than listen to platitudes from the rah-rah expert of the day repeat what the last one said that didn’t lead to any actionable change. You can’t bore your way to change. Said another way, you can’t impact change until you have their attention, and to get their attention you need to do something different. Talk about how you will impact innovation, agility and build stronger teams

3. Welcome to Your Roast

It’s like a bad high school cheer: “You say ‘diversity,’ I say ‘everybody but me.'” That’s what other’s thoughts might leap to when they hear diversity: “more of everybody but those like me.” To them, “Please, let me sign up for a couple of hours of how I’m ruining the world by my existence,” is not an attractive invitation. For many in the C-suite,  any of these settings could look like a trap—and they’ve spent a career avoiding those. They can easily rationalize their choices by saying that they need to focus on business activities they see as priorities. You know, like innovation, agility, and stronger teams.

Improv Makes Way For Innovation, Agility, and Stronger Teams

Improv isn’t like traditional diversity and inclusion training. It uses exercises that highlight the team as a whole and promote active listening and others’ focused awareness—key steps toward creating a diverse and inclusive environment. It brings everyone together in a safe environment where they can “Yes, And” their way to a better workplace environment for everyone, one where unusually high innovation, agility, and strong collaborative teams are the norms.

What can Improv do for your business? Find out at The Second City Works.