Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Product Development at the Improv

While buying books for my son's high school summer reading assignment on, I stumbled on Improvisation for the Spirit: Live a More Creative, Spontaneous, and Courageous Life Using the Tools of Improv Comedy by Katie Goodman. Goodman is an improv comedian who has recognized the correlation between skills required for comedic improv -- quick-thinking, collaboration, getting out of your own way, and being in the moment without being a perfectionist -- and skills required to be more effective in working with others in everyday life.

My interest in these skills stems from my comfort zone and my own social style and feedback I've received -- the situations of being uncomfortable without a script, worrying too much about the past and future, and negating someone's idea all sounded too familiar. The book includes exercises, and I found those quite challenging as well. But I'm looking forward to the growth opportunity and the chance to try something new.

Bottom line, I've found the book interesting, useful, and applicable to the product development process. The book opens with the "The First Four Skills of Improv", which are great skills to have in any collaborative situation:

#1 - You Must be Present and Listen Carefully -- "To be creative with others and to brainstorm solutions, you must first understand where everyone is coming from, and to do that, you've go to listen. (And not sneak a peek at your incoming text messages.)"

#2 - Don't Negate -- "Negation is when you deny someone's idea. The classic example actors use to explain negation is this:
One actor says, "Hey, look at the that pink elephant!"
The other actor says, "What are you talking about? There's no pink elephant."
Plop. The first actor is shot down, and there's nowhere to go."

#3 - Affirm and Add -- "You accept what your partner is suggesting, and you add to it."

#4 - Always be Willing to Surrender your Plans -- "In improv, you must be willing to give up your idea if it isn't working or the time to offer it has passed. You might be tempted to negate a new idea simply because you're attached to your original one. But the better approach is to go with flow and alter your course."

Good stuff, and an interesting approach to improving collaboration and team-building.

btw - my fave quote from the book: "Is anal-retentive spelled with or without the hyphen?"

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