Thursday, April 25, 2019

"What Start-ups Can Learn From Improv Comedy"

Photo by Heather Edison

   This Wall Street Journal article offers a fresh, unique approach for sparking creativity.  Some start-up companies are using improv comedy as an entrepreneur.  Entrepreneurship is defined by quick thinking, keeping an audience engaged and bringing together a team.  Improv comedy is similar, which includes "[...] riffing spontaneously on novel situations and interactions with other performers (Haislip, 2019).  Improv is considered to be useful for entrepreneurs and small businesses because of the need for adaptability. According to Bob Kulhan, Duke University Fuqua School of Business adjunct professor, 'Improvisation is being super-pliable, and entrepreneurs need to get out of their own way and adopt a fail early, fail often mentality"' (Haislip, 2019).  There are 4 important lessons entrepreneurs can learn and apply to a start-up business.  The first lesson is to listen and trust those in one's environment.  When doing improv, one pays attention to the interactions around them and base a reaction off of it.  Similarly, entrepreneurs must be astute to the people with whom they interact.  Like improv, entrepreneurs can connect with others and build on people's ideas.  This rule in improv is known as the "yes, and" rule.  It is, "[...] where people accept and add to somebody else’s contribution, instead of rejecting it or brushing it aside" (Haislip, 2019).  An example of the "yes, and" rule is an improv game called One Word Story.  Participants are put in a straight line and tell a story using one word (each turn is one word).  CEO and co-founder of Adrian Ridner uses incorporates improv to fuel creativity in team meetings.  Sessions start with a drawing of a random object where each person adds a function to it, ultimately building off ideas.  While the results can be unusual, there have been real-life changes to products that resulted from these meetings (Haislip, 2019). 

  The second lesson is to impose limits.  While that may be a contradiction, it helps in the improv process because it forces creativity and unexpected responses.  Walker Sand Communications' president Mark Santoro applies this lesson to team sessions.  For example, one meeting included using "vivid" imagery for making toast or to explain a vacation (Haislip, 2019).  No one person comes up with the same result.  Walker Sand Communications' is able to come up with creative solutions to problems and fresh interactions with clients (no buzzwords) (Haislip, 2019).  Daniel Kim of Daylight Designs encourages employees to tell jokes and puns in the workplace.  In fact, one joke about the tv show "The Simpsons" resulted in an outdoor light product.  The product was inspired by the joke of making a modular flashlight for the purpose of expanding Marge Simpson's hair (Haislip, 2019).  The third lesson from improv is to encourage display of hidden talents.  This allows employees to reach out of their comfort zone, and even the potential for recognition.  Steve Cody, CEO of the communications company Peppercomm has a personal story of this lesson.  A rather reserved Peppercomm employee was being consistently passed over to present to new clients.  However, the quiet employee impressed Cody and others at an employee comedy training session.  According to Cody, the employee showed a knack for rapping (Haislip, 2019).  Thanks to his rapping skill, the employee was signed to a business pitch that has maintain its clientele. 

  The final lesson from improv that entrepreneurs should learn is using imaginary objects.  One skill master improv comedians use is the ability to illustrate objects using only hand gestures (known as object work).  Object work can also be used by business salesmen when pitching sales.  Andrew Glantz from the company GiftAMeal uses this skill when making sales calls.  Users of the GiftAMeal app take pictures of meals in specific restaurants; GiftAMeal donates to local food banks (Haislip, 2019).  These restaurants pay a subscription to the company in exchange for being listed.  Glantz specifically applies object work, '"to mimic a customer picking up their phone off the table, clicking on the phone’s screen to take a photo of their food, showing their friends and placing it back down"' (Haislip, 2019).  Glantz never uses an actual phone for demonstrations because it is a distraction.  Clients would pay more attention to the phone (object) than his words.  Using an imaginary phone allows Glantz to give a visual demonstration to potential clients while still maintaining their undivided attention (Haislip, 2019).

  This article relates to marketing because many industries change at a fast pace.  The biggest example is the cell phone industry.  Every year, there is always a new phone that is "faster" and "better" than the previous ones.  Cell phone companies have to be not only aware of their competition, but also be astute to potential "million dollar" ideas from employees.  I did theater throughout middle school, high school, and a few years in college.  I have done improv a few times during those years and I can attest that it does have practical implications.  You learn to be overall hyper-aware of your environment and to embrace the unexpected.  Sometimes, the unexpected can end up producing a good result. 

Works Cited: Haislip, Barbara.  "What Startups Can Learn From Improv Comedy".  Journal Reports: Small Business, Business, The Wall Street Journal, Web, 25 April 2019.  Accessed April 25, 2019.

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