Spark Much-Needed Innovation With Improv

 -  6/1/09

The science behind comedy, what we find funny, as well as how to make something funny, can be leveraged for great business profit.

Amidst endless headlines about layoffs and budget cuts, we could all use a little comic relief. Not only is it good for the soul, but according to Amy K Hutchens, founder and intelligence activist for AmyK Inc., a business consultancy, it’s also good for the business.

“We don’t believe that innovation is limited to labs any more than we think improv is confined to a stage,” said Hutchens, who holds a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in brain research. “I always look at it from what’s going on inside your head. When one thought in your brain literally connects with another thought, you get that ‘eureka’ idea, that new approach.”

She explained that theater games such as improvisational comedy facilitate such moments. “It’s a business tool to foster and facilitate the connections of those disparate concepts. And you can transfer that innovative state in the brain back to the business topic at hand.”

For the past 17 years, Hutchens has applied her knowledge of brain waves to helping companies spark innovation. One of her most fascinating finds is that the science behind comedy — what we find funny, as well as how to make something funny — can be leveraged for great business profit.

To that end, Hutchens offered three tips based on standard principles of improvisational comedy to generate new ideas in the workplace:

Go Socratic. “Socrates once asked, ‘What’s the benefit of answering a question with another question?’” Hutchens said. “That’s my point. Answer a question with more questions. Let me explore all the possibilities. That’s what improv [is].”

Affirm and add. “It’s the Golden Rule in improv: You never negate — never,” Hutchens said. “For instance, onstage, if one actor were to say, ‘Hey, look at the purple tiger,’ and you respond with, ‘That’s not a purple tiger,’ you’ve just killed the theme. But when you affirm and add to it, and you’re like, ‘Wow, and look, it’s carrying off our 401(k) plans!’ then you’ve just expanded the theme and made it grow.

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