4 Improv Principles That Could Skyrocket Your Career

Collaboration and teamwork will bolster success.

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Vicki Salemi
Vicki Salemi
Have you ever felt stumped during a job interview? Unable to answer a question, an hour later (after the fact, of course), you have an a-ha moment. Recognizing a witty retort; alas, you're much too late.

Or that sinking feeling when you participate in a brainstorming meeting with your team and you concoct an absolutely brilliant and innovative idea only to be shot down by your peers?

When you want to be quicker on the uptake and lighter on your feet, the principles of improv – collaboration and teamwork – can bolster your career. Taking an improv class isn't only about comedy; after all, its fun and playful principles can boost creativity and productivity by staying present in the moment.

1. "Yes, and." One of the main improv principles entails being supportive and open. Taren Sterry, founder of Improv on the Job, says, "'Yes, and' is about accepting and building on what is offered. It's about listening fully, then responding. It's about investing in what's happening in the now."

At the office, it's not uncommon for good-intentioned colleagues and supervisors to shut the door on original ideas and possibilities before they even have a chance to evolve.

Sterry, who is also a public speaking teacher, points out: "A decade ago at Apple someone said, 'Maybe we should start making phones.' In response, someone had to say, 'Yes, and then people would have one device for everything!' With that simple choice to build on an idea, the iPhone was created. There may have been someone in the room who said, 'A phone that's also a computer? That would be too expensive and hard to develop.' That person probably doesn't work for Apple anymore."

2. "If then." Taking "yes, and" to another dimension, Matt Besser, one of the founders of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, a sketch comedy troupe, explains during the annual Del Close Marathon that "'Yes, and' begins the scene but once you get into the game of the scene in our language, you get into 'if, then.' If this unusual thing is true, then what else is true? To me that's an easier way to understand how comedy works."

Besser, the co-author of "The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual" adds, "'Yes, and' sounds very life-affirming and very positive but really it's less of a part than making a scene in our minds. When you see somewhere you're like this is all over the place – if that's your complaint about something that means it's not following a logical 'if then.' This is funny for this reason or this is funny for another reason." It makes sense for comedy and also for business, yes?

3. Your partner is a genius. The attitude of acceptance brings out the creativity in all of us. Sterry says: "We often do our best working for someone that has great confidence and trust in us to rise to the task. Acting like your partner is a genius is especially important during presentations."

For instance, you're presenting an idea and your colleague John isn't quite on board yet. Instead of simply saying it won't work, John can say, "I love your idea of contacting local diners to see if they want to donate food to our philanthropy, but I wonder if Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts might want to donate coffee to our volunteers, too?" By choosing this response, John acknowledges your idea and adds to the possibilities. Better yet, he looks good for making you look good. Win-win.

4. There are no mistakes. Sterry mentions: "Mistakes are natural and inevitable and are always opportunities for growth and change. Thus, we all could benefit to learn a more accepting attitude of our and others' 'failures' at work. We all know that we learn the most when things don't work out."

Remember, life doesn't have a script and neither do hours at the office. When applied in an accepting environment, improv can enhance collaboration and innovation. Sterry surmises, "When people bring an energy of acceptance, agreement and support to their relationships and their work, they allow for new possibilities, ideas and outcomes."

Vicki Salemi is the author of Big Career in the Big City and creator, producer and host of Score That Job. This New York City-based career expert and public speaker possesses more than 15 years of corporate experience in recruiting and human resources. She coaches college grads individually with an intense Job Search Boot Camp, writes and edits the MediaJobsDaily blog on Mediabistro, and conducts interviews as a freelance journalist with celebrities and notable names. BlogHer named her one of the country's top 25 career and business women bloggers worth reading!