Business success IS a laughing matter.

If you’re serious about your business, you can learn a lot from improvisational comedy.

Several years ago I took improv classes at Stevie Ray’s School of Improv in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I went in to my first one feeling very confident. After all, creative use of language is one of my greatest strengths, and people are always commenting on how quick-witted I am. Improv was obviously going to be a piece of cake.

What was I thinking?!?

The most memorable lesson I learned was this: Beginning improv is an excellent way to develop humility.

However, I also learned that, far from being a free-for-all, good improv actually follows clear rules. Although the number of rules varies depending on what source you cite, certain rules make it on virtually all the lists. Those rules are your friends, because they’re key in helping you avoid public improv humiliation.

Better yet, these rules are multi-purpose, because you can also apply them to business building. In that context, they enable you to:

Here are some of my favorite Rules of Improv AND Smart Business.

Think “Yes, and…”.

In other words, accept whatever is thrown at you and build on it. Nothing will stop an improv scene deader quicker than having one performer toss out an idea and having her partner say, in effect, “No, I won’t work with that.”

In a business setting, a classic example of breaking this rule is the ever-popular, “We tried that once,” or its cousin from the other end of the spectrum, “We’ve always done it this way.

Trust yourself and your partner(s).

This is sometimes easier said than done.

As entrepreneurs, we’re committed to doing what’s right for our businesses, but we sometimes second-guess ourselves. However, when you choose to trust yourself and your own capabilities, you create a positive Pygmalion effect; that is, you tend to get positive results because you trust that you’ll figure out a way to create them.

As for trusting your “partners”, I feel that can refer not only to your actual business partner (if any), but also to your referral partners, strategic allies, vendors, prospects, and customers.

Make your partner look good.

The trust addressed in Rule #2 is a necessary prerequisite to implementing Rule #3.

If I’m doing an improv scene with another person and I focus on making her look good, I get to trust that she will be focused on making me look good. This has several advantages.

Make assumptions.

This is a tricky one, because you need to be careful about what type of assumptions you make, and when.

Things you don’t assume: that you know what your partner (client) wants; that you’ve understood what they mean despite not having clarified the meaning with them; that “haven’t heard any complaints” is the same thing as “they love me.”

However, you do assume that you—and your partners/team—are smart enough to figure out how to create the desired outcome. If you’re stuck for a solution to a problem, you also make some assumptions to get your brain limbered up. It’s amazing how assuming that there’s a way to get what you (or your client) want acts as mental WD-40, loosening your old habits of thinking and enabling you to tap greater creativity than you perhaps had given yourself credit for.


As you can see, there are a lot of ways in which you can apply rules of improv to building a successful business. Which of these do you feel have the most potential to improve your particular situation?

Or do you feel that you need to spend time on more “traditional” business-building tactics and strategies? If that’s the case, let me offer you a no-charge cheat sheet drawn from my e-book, Small Business Marketing Basics. If you’d like this pithy reference, just email me with “I wanna get back to (marketing) basics!” in the subject line. I’ll send the PDF to you.

(BTW, thanks to ZeNahla for posting the belly-laugh image in the Creative Commons section of Flickr.)

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One Response to Business success IS a laughing matter.

  1. Pingback: To succeed, you’ve gotta keep movin’ on. | Stepping Into Big

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