Improv Technique: Build
So, here's what we're going to do. I'm going to give you four ways that improv helps us generate ideas in greater quantity and quality, that improv helps us to find novelty in our ideation, and gives us an assistance with the relationships that we have with other people. You'd be surprised at the level of impact that relationships have on our ideation. There are people in your life that you love to throw around ideas with. You might be at the bar, sitting around over a beer. You love to come up with each other. There's a certain relationship that you have, a certain freedom that you have with each other that you can say even the stupidest thing, and it's okay. There is a freedom that exists within that. Then there are other people that you hate coming up with ideas with for any number of reasons. In most cases, it's because they're the ones that shut all the ideas down. They're the ones that are like, no, we can't do that, or what if we do this, or they hold onto their own ideas, don't...
have the capacity to give those ideas up. There are people in our lives that play both of those roles. How do we get more of the former and less of the latter? How do we create an environment with which we can have more people involved in the ideation process, generate ideas together, and be able to leave that environment with a whole bunch of potential options for whatever problem that we're trying to solve so that there is a level of relevance and there is a level of novelty with all of the solutions? If you've never been in a really good brainstorm, then you're missing out. You know, part of my job as a creative director is to lead brainstorming, lead groups of people into the ideation process. And there's something that happens. It's really unique. It's very rare. It's kind of like going to a, if you've ever been to a great concert where you were like, this is only happening once. Like, there's no way this is happening again. And you were in that moment, and you were proud to be in that moment, like, I can't believe I'm here to see this and here to witness this. From a brainstorming standpoint, there are moments with which we have group ideation sessions that things are just flying. Things are, I mean, people are throwing out ideas, and they don't care, and they're not great, but they're parts of great, and there's bits and pieces of things, and they're willing to share, and it's physical. If you've ever seen, there's a Pixar documentary called The Pixar Story where they talk about the beginnings of Pixar. They talk about a moment in time when everything was fresh and new and they're showing clips of guys coming up with ideas together, and it's all really physical, and they're moving around, and they're acting silly, and they're looking stupid, and it's all okay, and everyone's okay with it. That time is so rare, and it's so valuable. How do we get more of that? How do our ideation sessions, how do we improve them over the course of time? Part of it is stripping away the relationships that we have with each other. It's not worrying about the political hierarchy, of titles. It's not worried about anything else. It's only worried about solving this idea in the greatest way possible. So I'm going to try to show you four things, four ways that improv helps us to do that, helps us get to that state in our life, and it's going to involve some activity. There is no way to participate in improv without participating in improv. You can watch it and that's great, but it's like playing the guitar. If you wanna learn how to play the guitar, you can watch all the YouTube videos you want. You can watch them for years. And the first time you pick up a guitar, you're gonna sound like a cat scratching a wall. That's the nature of it. You have to participate in it. Improv's the same way. So I'm going to try to create an environment with which there's a certain level of safety in the chaos. We're going to stay in, well, we'll do a warmup exercise, but we'll do it together, and we'll do one exercise where we'll do it with the four of you that are here in studio. But then all the other exercises are gonna be just the two of you, and you're gonna have these games that you're gonna play. It's just the two of you. So you have this sort of cone of safety over you, because no one's watching you. You're not performing to a huge, massive crowd. So, you're gonna have that safety with you, and hopefully at home back on the internet, you guys are watching. If you have somebody with you, great. If you don't, when you go back through this class, take a look and see if you can grab somebody to do these exercises with you. You're going to find how just having that one other person gives you somebody to work with, and that's what you're gonna need as we go through this. So I wanna warm you guys up before we get started. Again, this isn't a class on improv. I'm not going to teach you how to do improv. So what we're really gonna do is just interact with one another, and then we're gonna learn from those things. So we're gonna have a little bit of warmup exercise as we get started with this. So, we're in kind of a half-moon already. You guys are already in a half-moon already. This is simply a free association game. What we're going to do is you guys are just gonna go down the line. We're gonna start here, and we're gonna go down the line, and it's gonna go all the way back. What this is, I'm gonna throw out a word, and then you have to throw out the first word that you think of, and then the first word that you think of in reaction to that, and then the first word that you think of. Now, you can't preplan this. It has to be the word you think of from the word that comes before you. And the goal is to spit it out as quickly as humanly possible. Now, it's a family show, so let's keep it easy, all right? So I'm gonna throw out a word, you're gonna go, and you're just basically gonna go in a circle. So you'll go down the line, and then back to you, and we're gonna keep going until I say stop, okay? You ready? I'm gonna give you a word.
I thought you start.
Well, I'm not in this. You have to do it. Ready? Rutabaga.
All right, faster. Go.
All right, stop. All right. So, you guys are starting to warm up, starting to have a relationship with each other. Even in the context of this, you could feel some pre-planning, couldn't you? You know that there were certain areas that you were gonna stay in, and where you got thrown is when somebody broke from that. For instance, in this exercise, when it got to earth and solar system, you guys knew where you were going to be. You could start pre-planning ahead of time and know you were gonna have an answer, 'cause that's what we wanna do as humans. We wanna plan so bad. We wanna have ideas in our head right off the bat. Pure improv is to remove all of that and simply react to what's happening right in front of you, and it's really hard to do, because we wanna plan. As adults, we wanna plan, and it's a lot easier for us to have that response. What's interesting is you wanted to have a response that was good. You wanted to have something that was interesting. You also wanted to have something that was unique. So this happens. You see this in children all the time. If you make up a game with kids, they don't just wanna win. They do wanna win. But they wanna win their way. They wanna know what you didn't say they couldn't do. You didn't say I wouldn't do this. So they kind of wanna win their way, right? They wanna have something unique, and as you guys are going through this exercise, you want something unique, too. You wanna be able to react to it in a way where you're like, oh, that was a good response, not a dumb response. We're even worried about the judgment in something that's happening this fast. But I want you guys to just feel really comfortable with each other as we go through this, okay? So we're going to start this. We're going to start this with an exercise that's very similar to this. See, in improv, there's really one rule. Do you guys know what the one rule of improv is? Eh, sort of. The one rule of improv is called yes, and. Yes, and, right? There's two parts to yes, and. There's the yes. I'm going to accept the world that you've created as true. See, from a human standpoint, this isn't normal. We immediately judge ideas, immediately. We're judging and evaluating the value of an idea immediately. It's not in our human nature to naturally accept any world to be true. But if you're on an improv stage and you're improving a scene, you have to accept the world that the other players have created as true, because shutting down those people makes terrible entertainment, right? If you had the scene where you were playing it out and someone said, hey, we're in this library. Look, there's a lion. From a human standpoint, we would wanna say, that's dumb. Why would there be a lion in a library? That wouldn't exist, right? That's human nature, for us to say it's dumb. But from an improv standpoint, that makes terrible entertainment, doesn't it, if somebody's just shutting down ideas. It's much more entertaining to go, okay, I'm going to accept that there's a lion here. I'm going to accept that the world that you've created is true. This, the yes aspect of yes, and, is one of the primary elements from a creative standpoint as we talk about ideation, is accepting the worlds that are being created as true. But then there's the comma, and then there's the and. The and means not only am I going to accept it as true; I'm going to add something of value to it. See, as humans, if we don't accept something as true, we don't want to add any value to something. It's not that I'm just going to accept this world as true. I'm now going to take it one step further. I'm going to add something for you to then react to. I'm not just going to say, that's great, and then leave you on your own, right? I'm going to add something of value to this. And so we're going to practice a little yes, and. This is a primary element of improv. It's really the only rule of improv. If you follow this rule, everything else is just practice. This is the only rule. And it's really the only rule we're going to talk about today. So, I'm going to set you up with a game that we're going to play to practice this idea of yes, and. So, we're going to stay in the same scenario you guys were, so just like this. We're going to play a game called eulogy. Somebody has died. The thing is, you guys don't know who. I'm going to show you who it is. I'm going to give you their name. I'm going to give you their age. And I'm going to give you their occupation, what they did for a living. You're going to build eulogy on the fly, one sentence at a time, one thought at a time. We're going to start down here, and you're going to be the first. So you're going to look and see who our person is, and you're going to start the eulogy as if you've walked up to the mic at a funeral to say something about the deceased. And so you'll start that sentence, and when you look over to your right, she'll pick it up from there. The good news is, you only know what's been offered to this point. So you can't just make something new up out of thin air. You have to react to where he's going. So you have to accept the world that he's created, and then add something of value to it. And then it goes to you, and then to you, and then back to you, and we just keep going as we build this eulogy. Now, I've got three personas. I'm gonna swap personas somewhere in the middle of this, and then you start all over with whoever's next. If you were talking just then, I'll say switch, and now you have a new persona, and you'll begin it, and we'll keep going with them, as if you walked into three different funerals and you're giving their eulogies. Got it? You ready? Okay. Here we go. Our first deceased, Robert. He was 97. He was a handyman. Ready, go.
After a super, super unfortunate visit to his parents' house, Robert started to fix the sink, and then one thing led to another, and his niece ran in. (both laugh)
Accept it to be true, add to it.
Yes, and she went to hand him a tool when the pipe broke and unfortunately for Robert, when he was a kid, there was this major incident in a pool.
For being a handyman, he had an irrational fear of water, and he rested away the tool from his daughter, or his niece, and one thing led to another, and in the struggle...
In the struggle, he fell off the step ladder that he was standing on. He hit his head against the granite table, the granite edge of the island of the kitchen.
After weeks in the hospital, I mean, these were hard times, the whole family was there every single day, God bless them, and after weeks of suffering and watching way too much Andy Griffith, Robert felt himself slipping.
Oh, Robert. I mean, you were 97. You lived an amazing life. You built this incredible family with this lineage, and kids, and how we will miss the days of building birdhouses.
All right, we're gonna switch. Beatrice. She was 68. She was a drug lord. Let's start her eulogy with you.
We all know that Beatrice was the life of the party. I just never thought that she would go the way that she did.
Beatrice died in her sleep while taking a bunch of psychedelics, and she thought she could be a little bit more creative in her business as she was getting on in age, and the rest of her crew were moving in on her.
I mean, Beatrice always said 65 was the new 25, but, you know, given her stature with the crew, I think she got, I think, I think it was the bad batch. I think it was. It was the bad batch that finally got her.
So the question is, who was out to get her? Was it one of you?
You know, I don't see Gerald here in the audience today. They were close.
But what we do see here is Sven. He has passed away. He was 43, and he was a male model. You will begin Sven's eulogy.
Oh, Sven, male model, 43, great looking, was just to get his career off the ground as an actor in the B-movie business when he stupidly shot himself in the head with what he thought was a prop gun. (all laugh)
Those damn prop guns. God, no matter how many, no matter how many boxer brief photo shoots he did, I mean, man, man was he beautiful. But he didn't have everything going on upstairs, and we love him for that, Sven. Love you, man. So, for your next adventure, I just, I hope you get into that big movie. (all laugh)
Yeah, you know, I mean this is probably why you were so anti-guns. Makes sense now, why you would go to the rallies, but why you would ever pick up the prop gun just doesn't add up.
All right. So, I'll let you off the hook. That was really good. I wasn't expecting you guys to actually define how he died. I thought it was gonna be much more of a relationship thing. But you guys just latched onto, let's tell the story of how each of these people died. It was fantastic. It was really good. But you could begin to see how what happens before you impacts the way that you work, right? So, for three of you, you got to start off an exercise. So some of you might think, well, I like it a lot, I like it a lot better, because I can create a world, and I don't have to react to something. But the next people who go have to grab on or latch onto something, and all you're praying for is that somebody says something interesting that you can latch onto and then have a little, have a little, you know, thread or root go in a different direction. That's really all you want. You want the and aspect of that. Build on this. Make it. And that's really one of the first things that improv teaches us about the creative process, is the ability to build. See, most of us approach problem-solving in a very one-off way. We have a problem, and it's down here, and we try to come up with a solution for it, and if we don't like that solution, we start right back down with the ground floor, right? And we say, no, let me take another stab at this, another stab at this. We keep throwing dart sat the exact same problem. What if we did this and this and this and this and this, and we think of it very, very horizontally. But we could be thinking about it vertically, in the context of yes, anding the conversation. It's to take someone else's solution and go, okay, what would I build upon that solution if I wanted to keep going, of I wanted to do something else, and you can build these vertical solution buildings, and if you get to the top and go, you know what? Nothing there. You can start back at the bottom and keep building up. It teaches us how to look for those hooks in somebody else. See, in most cases, when we're generating ideas in groups, we're thinking about solving the problem ourself. We're terrible listeners in those environments. We're not listening to what somebody else is saying. We're trying to think of a solution ourselves. But what improv teaches us to do is it teaches us to listen to the other people. There's no way you can interact with each other if you're not listening to what each other is saying. In this exercise, you're desperate for someone in front of you to give you a hook, and you're listening for it, and then in your mind, you're building these little buildings in your head and then listening for these hooks as you go. As an ideation tool, improv, this idea of yes, anding is a great foundational tool from a group ideation standpoint. When you're brainstorming with other people, just starting off your sentence with yes, and, and looking for those opportunities to say, yes, and what if we did this? I'm building upon it. The other great thing about that tool, yes, and as a tool for ideation is it keeps things positive. See, in most group ideation sessions, we're evaluating the ideas as they come out. We're trying to get through, will this idea work, so it's, here's the idea and why it won't work. Here's the idea and why it won't work, and we're constantly going back and forth. The idea of yes, anding keeps things in a positive nature. Yes, I'm accepting that they idea that you've said is true, and I'm building upon it, and it keeps things in a very positive nature. Have you ever been in a group ideation session where it's just judging ideas as they come out? You don't wanna participate in that. Why should I offer up an idea? It's just gonna get killed anyway. But when you're in an environment with which everyone's like, I see where you're going. How about if we did this and this and this? I'm gonna take the core of that idea, or what if we added this to it? It creates a very positive environment, and that positive environment spurs on more ideas. We all wanna be a part of an environment that's positive. And yes, and allows us to do that, and it teaches us to build up on ideas not only from the ground floor, but then it teaches us to listen to what other people are saying in order for us to do so.
So what happens when you get stuck?
When you get stuck? You mean, you get stuck, like in this exercise when you couldn't come up with something, right? In those instances, you have to find a hook. You've gotta find one little thing. You're gonna see later on, we're gonna talk about the idea of punting. See, it happens in improv a bunch, where you don't know what to say, and then you just punt. You're like, I don't know what to say. That sounds great. And you just punt to your neighbor. And sometimes, you'll be in instances with which you have to. The nature of improv is that it's teaching you how to do that less, is that you're punting now or you're struggling now, but the more you do it, the better you get. We all have people in our lives that we would look at and say that they're quick-witted, people who, that guy can always come up with a joke, or he always has a response, and it's always funny. He's quick-witted. It isn't natural. He wasn't born that way. He has practiced that art. Most smart alecks are smart alecks because they're smart alecks all the time, right? They practice it a whole bunch. And if you practice it, the more you practice it, the less stuck you're going to be. And you're going to find that there are certain hooks that you have, that while you're listening to what's happening in front of you, you don't grab onto, how can I continue the same narrative. There are little bits and pieces of a word here or a word there that you grab onto and you store in your memory, like, all right, once I get there, we talked about, you know, we talked about him hitting his head on the counter. We talked about the fear of water. These are all little things that I can store away in my head, that when it comes to me, if I need to recall them quickly, I can grab onto one of them and then just stream of consciousness. We've all done the exercise of writing stream of consciousness, right? It's the exact same thing mentally. The problem with the mental aspect is we can really only hold about seven short-term memory items. That's why phone numbers are only seven digits long. You never knew that, right? But you can keep hold of about seven short-term memory things. So you can only store up a few of these, but you only need one or two hooks. You only need one or two things to grab onto, and you're constantly listening for where those hooks are. In our creative work, we're doing the exact same thing. We'll look into a particular brand or a product or a service, and we'll say to ourselves, where are the hooks? Where are the things where you're like, ooh, that's about family, or ooh, that's about belonging. Oh, those are interesting little hooks. I can then take that and push that and go off in a train and go, no, nothing there. Where's another hook, or did another hook come from this? There are brainstorming exercises that I'll put groups through that are more, that are more physical exercises in that we'll do things like word-webbing, which is I'll put a word in the center, I'll circle it, and somebody has to wrote a word, the first word that they think of, just like our warmup exercise, and they circle it and attach the line. And then you can continue to attach lines to circles, words that you think of, and what it creates is this giant spider web of related words, but then you can grab patterns, and you begin to see things that are disparate that are far-apart that you can put together and go, these two things are really interesting. But you have to go through the exercise to see it, because you need to see those words in order to put them together. And in the improv environment, you're doing it all sort of mentally. You're storing those words that you might call upon later. So as you do more and more of it, you're gonna grab on. You're gonna understand, I need to store these words in my memory so I can grab onto them when I need them, and you're gonna get faster and better at it, and that's when the brainstorms really start moving, when you're just grabbing onto words and concepts and moving and saying, what about this? What about this? What about this? And people can kind of build it up. And then you go back in a day later and go, what were we talking about when we went off on this little tangent, and it becomes a really wonderful exercise.