Improv: Stanford University Style via TEDx Talk

Yes they teach Improvisation at Stanford University. It is taught by our good friend, Dan Klein.

Dan shared this thought with me recently:

"Are you looking for inspiration? Inspire someone else. It's kind of like what my mom used to tell me when I would hope to get mail - just go write someone a letter instead of checking the mailbox every hour."  ~Dan Klein

In the video below you'll hear Dan share his view of the value of Improv in this 8 minute TEDx video.

Improv is moving out of the theater and into more and more parts of life.  Dan teaches improv not just to drama students but also to the business students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Platner Institute for Design. This seems like a great idea....there is hope for the world.


21st Century Business Skills


I'm sitting the of office of Troje, in Amsterdam, where I just had lunch with Henk, Alieke, and Liselotte - all "van Troje".  All of us have used improv with organizations for years in several ways - from Role-play to corporate performance to workshops on change, communication, collaboration, innovation and everything in between. Improv is a growing buzzword in the business lexicon these days and is being adopted around the world, although Europe has a few years head start on the US right now in our experience. But more articles are showing up in business press including the recent article on CNN.

In education 21st Century Skills are teaching children four primary areas - Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Communication, and Collaboration.

These 21st Century principles, mindset, and skills are required for improv and are useful in many places and are the key to the business world as we move into the 21st century. These 21st Century Business Skills have been "discovered" by software developers in the Agile and SCRUM movements, by designers in Design Thinking being used by the Stanford and IDEO to name just a few.

Applied Improv is a rich toolkit for teaching the principles and mindset and give the opportunity to practice the lessons and skills.

Applied Improv Principles: Storytelling is Collaboration

In the article What is Applied Improv? I discussed seven principles of improv that apply in the work environment. Here I expand on the concept of "Storytelling is Collaboration" As humans, we are natural storytellers. Much of how we communicate and think comes from telling stories to ourselves and others. Each story that we tell involves people, experiences and ideas that we have interacted with in our lives. (Sawyer, 2007) * In this way our stories are a collaboration with all of those elements that we have experienced. Bringing together the combined experiences of several people allow us to tell stories as a group with each person adding their own offers. A team solving a business problem in a group meeting is a story that might look something like this:

Once upon a time our product was constantly in demand, but sales have been down for a year, because of that we are looking at our customer feedback, because of that we see that updates to the product are needed, and now we can create a plan to roll out the new features. This summary story might take place over several meetings with many different people adding pieces to the story based on their experiences and ideas.


Collaboration means listening for those offers and accepting them in a way that makes your partner look good and builds on them by “Yes, and”ing them.

*Sawyer, Keith 2007. Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration

Applied Improv Principles: Make Your Partner(s) Look Good

In the article What is Applied Improv? I discussed seven principles of improv that apply in the work environment. Here I expand on the concept of "Making your Partner Look Good." Making your partner look good means listening, encouraging, and looking for ways to support what others are doing and is necessary for collaboration. It means suspending our tendency to make ourselves look good, and let go of competitive, adversarial and antagonistic behaviors that can be present in group dynamics. The good of the group is best served by everyone helping to push forward ideas.

Partner is a term that comes from acting and means your scene partner. When you apply the concept more widely in an applied improv setting it could be a co-worker, spouse, child, parent, boss, client, or the person who takes your ticket at the movies. In each case the way in which you can make them look good might be different, but the concept is the same. For here, I'll just say partner.

What makes your partner look good? Pointing out their mistakes publicly, sarcastic remarks, or silently letting them go down in flames in a meeting are all examples you may have seen that do NOT accomplish the goal. Look for ways to help them, have compassion, be graceful, let them off the hook, empathize. Even more than that you could turn it around, improve, build, expand, transform, or celebrate what they have done or said.

In the chapter on saying Yes in Improv Wisdom * by Patricia Ryan Madson. She suggests an experiment of looking for any way to say yes and build on the ideas and desires of the people around you. This is an excellent way of making them look good. Find the goodness in everything they do and tell them! Don't fake it - really search for the truth of the goodness. If you are open to it, you can find it.

* Madson, Patricia Ryan 2001. improv wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up

Applied Improv Principles: Yes, And...

In the article What is Applied Improv? I discussed seven principles of improv that apply in the work environment. Here I expand on the concept of "Yes, And..." Yes, And... is as simple as the using the phrase “Yes, and...” in responding to others as a way to build on their ideas and expand them. It is also the term used to describe the concept of accepting what other say and enhancing, expanding, and building on that idea to move things forward. This is in contrast to “Yes, But” and “No” which stop collaboration and forward momentum.

Yes, And makes you more positive. It can filter into all aspects of your life. This is talked about extensively in the book Improv Wisdom * by Patricia Ryan Madson. She offers this experiment in the first chapter on Yes:

For one day say yes to everything that's offered. Set your own preferences aside. Notice the results. See how often it may not be convenient or easy to do this. Obviously, use common sense in executing this rule. If you are a diabetic and are offered a big piece of pie, you'll need to find a way to protect your health. Perhaps you can say boldly, "Yes, I'd love to have this pie to take home to my son who adores cherries."

It's good for everyone including to yourself. It can be surprising how often we tell ourselves NO once you become aware of it. Take notice of for the rest today how many times you say yes to yourself vs. how many times you say no.

* Madson, Patricia Ryan 2001. improv wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up