Thursday, May 17, 2012

Live from Front End of Innovation 2012: Michelle James on Using Improv to Foster Innovation


There are few words as potent and powerful as "Yes," but it takes an improv experience to learn the exponential power of adding the word "And."  Over the course of several exercises, we did not just imagine the force of saying "Yes...and," we watched it happen.

Here's one example: Working with a partner, draw a creature one line at a time.  Each line can be straight, curvy, loopy, or otherwise.   Work in silence, and do not communicate with your partner in any way.  With each contribution, accept the prior line, yes...and draw your line.  When the creature is completed, name it with each of you adding one letter at a time.  At first, it seems weird.  Then, the idea takes some shape.  Then it gets weird, and then it takes shape again.  This process repeats over and over with each partner bringing new twists and ideas into the drawing, and it goes in ways that are creative, interesting, and often beyond the imagination!

When I did this with a partner, we ended up with a creature that sort of resembled Count von Count.  At first, I was posing him giving a "Thumbs-up," (see the drawing), and then watched with a snicker as my partner turned  it into a cigar.  The most humorous moment (which got us roaring with laughter when I told her afterwards), is when I drew what I thought was a button on the creature's jacket.  My partner thought I had started naming the creature, and put a "P" next to my O.  Our creature quickly found itself with the moniker "Skopellasti."

This is only part of the power of "yes...and" -- you never know what interesting things will come out!  But, those incremental steps capitalize on trust, creativity, partnership, and enthusiasm, and unleash the total power of innovation.  Improv and the insights it elicits are a direct translation of the innovation process and, like any gestalt, is a whole far greater than the sum of its parts.

Orin C. Davis is the first person to earn a doctorate in positive psychology. His research focuses on flow, creativity, hypnosis, and mentoring, and it spans both the workplace and daily life. He is the principal investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory and a freelance consultant who helps companies maximize their human capital and become better places to work.

1 comment:

Scott Crabtree said...

Good stuff Orin, thank you.

"Yes, and" makes me think about the Losada line: the ratio of ~3 positive for every 1 negative comment (or emotion) that keeps our brains feeling safe, and therefore more creative. Did this come up in the discussions around "Yes, and"?

Thanks again for the helpful reporting from the conference.

--Scott Crabtree

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