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Celebrating the Unexpected

Oct 27, 2015

By Chelsea Clarke

At times in my life, I've thought there must be some trick to feeling comfortable around unfamiliar people, places and situations. Sometimes, I'd miss the confidence boat, and I'd feel uncomfortable or out of the loop with a new group of people. Other times, I'd feel like myself: confident, somewhat extroverted, and silly. But I always hated meeting new people and starting new jobs because it meant starting the whole process over, and I couldn't predict whether I would get into the right groove. 

The new endeavors--jobs, schools, parties, friendships--I have felt most comfortable in share a common link: I showed a little bravery early, and it made all the difference. Maybe this was making a joke on the first day of class, or sharing an honest moment with a new coworker. But it was taking a small social risk, even when I was feeling uncomfortable, that gave a great return. 

To some extent, I had to fake it until I made it. Improv comedy works that muscle of pursuing fear. It requires us to be comfortable in unfamiliar situations, and to be aware and present in the moment instead of clinging to a plan. 

In my day to day life, I feel much more confident sharing ideas, being creative, having fun right away. I travel to teach workshops to high-powered executives and accomplished teams on their turf, something I never could have imagined doing before. And in social situations, I am friendly and make friends much easier. On the whole, I like my interactions with people, both in work and personal life, better since becoming an improviser. 

Sure, dealing with new situations still makes me nervous every once in a while, but improv has not only made me more brave than before, but has decreased my anxiety time. Improv helped me feel how rewarding it is to be fearless, which has turned my impulses to bail or become uncharacteristically introverted into impulses to be open, funny, and nonjudgmental of myself and others. 

Src: Chelsea Clarke
confidence ucbworkplace Chelsea Clarke fearlessness

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Improv for Innovation

Oct 27, 2015

By Ari Voukydis

Too often in any group creative endeavor the fear of failure weighs us down and makes us ordinary, so we pitch ideas safely or tentatively. What if you were able to create an environment in which we embraced failure as a perfect teaching tool, and rewarded the people who went out on a limb?

UCB is predicated on the idea that if you and I step onstage together, I have one singular, overriding goal: To make you look like an absolute friggin' genius. My goal is not to get laughs, or create art, or look good... it's to make sure that you do. And the trick is, you are doing the same for me.

It's not rocket science that the team who stops at nothing to make each other look good is going to go further than the team who stops at nothing to make each of themselves look good. The rocket science part is getting everyone into a headspace where they can truly put the group's welfare above their own. And nothing is better for teaching that experience than improv, because in improv if your team works together, you will succeed. And if your team doesn't trust each other, you will fail. Period. End of story.

At UCB we strive to create a culture of YES-AND. This means that when someone presents an idea, everyone is immediately on board. Not a second is spent evaluating the quality of the idea -- plenty of time for that after the show. In the moment that idea, no matter how silly or ill-conceived it might appear, is treated by everyone on the team like it deserves a Nobel prize. I may have a great scene in my mind about Abe Lincoln, but if before I say anything my scene partner says, "Happy 13th birthday, Sarah. Your father and I bought you a pony," then I'm going to shelve my own idea and dive into that pony party like it's freakin' HAMLET.

Once you can get your team to a place where they know that any idea - simple, complicated, smart or dumb - is going to be embraced and celebrated, what's going to happen is that people are going to be willing and eager to toss out their weirder, more off-the-beaten-track ideas. And this will lead to a whole lot more ideas that don't go anywhere, but it will also lead to brilliant stuff that has never been done. Why? Because all the safe ideas have already been done, and if successful innovation were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Let me close with a horrible and yet apt business cliche: You are more apt to go out on a limb if you're certain that your team is gathered beneath, waiting to catch you, than if they're crouched behind you, sawing the damn thing off.

Src: Ari Voukydis
improv ucbworkplace ari voukydis innovation

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Don't Fear Mistakes; Just Adjust

Oct 26, 2015

By Will Hines

Success doesn't mean making fewer mistakes. It just means recovering more quickly. The term I like to use is 'agility.'  Improv teaches you that mistakes are nothing to fear as long as you have the agility to adjust yourself quickly. Agile brands and professionals understand and deftly recover from 'mistakes.'

I put 'mistakes' in quotes because something that was initially a mistake will end up being helpful, given enough adjustments. But let's say a mistake is something that at least temporarily stops the scene or company from moving forward. These happen all the time. A rookie will be so dismayed that they impeded their scene or damaged their brand that they'll freeze up. The veteran knows the way out of a problem is to move THROUGH it.

In 2011, Netflix tried to separate its service of streaming movies away as a separate brand called 'Qwikster.' However, the decision was met with criticism and mockery and many industry blogs declared the move a mistake. After a week, the CEO cancelled the new brand and simply introduced a new pricing plan for the streaming service. So was 'Qwikster' a mistake? Probably. But because of a quick correction, there was no lasting harm done; Netflix is currently the most-watched 'cable network' in America.

My favorite improv example of overcoming a mistake comes from a graduation performance of a class I taught. After a few scenes, a student came out and started flapping his arms to indicate he was a bird. Normally, another student would join and the two would do a scene. But for some reason, no one stepped out. The first student was out there alone, silently flapping his arms, looking nervous and abandoned. A few people in the crowd tittered; they could tell something was going wrong. After a full minute of silence, another ran across the stage, which is the agreed upon signal that the scene was over. Then, two OTHER people stepped out to do a new scene. 

This was a HUGE failure on the class' part. To abandon a fellow classmate and then to just end the scene without addressing it was as big a 'mistake' as I could imagine. I sat in the audience mortified that I had taught this class. Then after a few scenes, the same student stepped out AGAIN and flapped his arms. AGAIN, NO ONE JOINED HIM. He stood there in silence and flapped his arms. Except this time, the audience started giggling. It was becoming a pattern, and patterns are funny. A few of his classmates exchanged looks with each other as they thought about joining him. Instead, someone simply ran across the stage and ended the scene again. The audience laughed moderately and a few people applauded.  A few more scenes went by.

For a THIRD TIME, the student came out and flapped his arms. This time, a few students joined him, then a few more - each flapping his/her arms. Soon they had formed a 'V' of birds on the stage. The initial student looked to his left and right and saw that everyone had joined him and they all simultaneously "flapped" off the stage together. The audience exploded in applause.

Afterwards, I overheard someone saying 'How did they know to not go out the first two times?' They didn't know. They made a mistake. But they adjusted, and so everything was fine.

The point is: there is no point in being scared of mistakes. Just be ready to adjust.

Src: Will Hines
fear improv mistakes Will Hines ucbworkplace agility

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