An idea can be as powerful as a hammer, but usually begins as a delicate seed of an incomplete thought. It needs to be incubated and protected while it develops and gets better. Some creative practices do better jobs than others at this. But all too often, the majority of time in meetings is spent poking holes and finding weak spots in ideas instead of nurturing them.
Tina Fey’s Bossypants struck a chord with me, not only for her brilliant writing throughout the book, but for her section titled “The Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life And Reduce Belly Fat.” Here she outlines the basic principles of improv acting:
“The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created… Start with a YES and see where that takes you… The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own.”
Eric Schmidt learns the Rules of Improv during Tina Fey’s Authors@Google session.
Tina captures a simple yet profound insight on the creative process – one that encourages everyone to be open-minded and respond to ideas with positive energy. Most people would say that is exactly how they themselves or their agencies operate, but in reality, it’s something more often preached than practiced.
Everyone wants to be a problem solver. Typically, that begins by trying to point out all the problems in initial ideas – from not quite solving the original brief perfectly to not potentially delivering on measurable X – there are always shortcomings somehow or somewhere. The truth is that the shortcomings are usually pretty obvious. But it’s easy to be a problem pointer. It’s much better to be a problem builder.
Problem builders are the improv artists of our industry and extremely valuable assets to any core team. They say ‘Yes’ first and then contribute to make the idea smarter, more interesting and more engaging. The best creatives I’ve worked with are the ones on the scaffold helping to build skyscrapers, not the ones who standby watching and release wrecking balls on ideas.
If we all work to become problem builders, we can help raise each idea as high as possible. Then, the whole team can evaluate which one stands the tallest, not be left with the one left standing.
Here’s a link to Bossypants if you haven’t read it yet.