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Improv-isdom – Using Improvisational Theatre To Stimulate Creative Thinking In Teams

Note: Improvisational Theatre or Improv is a form of theatre in which the story, characters and dialogues are made up in the moment by the actors, without any prior scripting or planning

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“Creativity begins when you stop coming in your own way!”

Struggling to get that one unique idea? Caught in a web of procrastination that is keeping all your ideas stalled? Or maybe you are doing everything right and yet can’t seem to keep pace with others. If you have ever faced these challenges in your personal or professional lives, you are not alone. 

We often fall short of becoming the best versions of ourselves – we can see the ideal goal, almost touch it and feel it, yet it seems out of reach. Creativity and inspiration seem elusive, meant only for some moments or worse still, some others. In fact, it is just a matter of exercising the mind!

Just like we hit the gym to keep our bodies fit, our minds need mental stimulation to stay active, energetic and inspired! And a great way to bring this cocktail of stimulation to the mind is Improv theatre! In life, we often compartmentalize ourselves – calculating our every move, gesture, interaction and transaction to fit social structures, norms or expectations. Inadvertently, we lose the very spontaneity and instincts that breed the creative spirit! So how can Improv help?

  • Being mindful. Since one does not know what is about to come – the situation, the roles, the narrative are all made on the spot – it is necessary to be completely in the present, pay attention and most importantly, listen intently to one another.
  • Being heartful. Improv requires support and respect for each other’s actions and reactions. There are no rights or wrongs because there are no expectations of what is about to come. One learns to not just accept but even build on the most bizarre, eccentric and varied ideas.
  • Being positive. Improvisers learn one thing very early on – the importance of agreeing and building on ideas as opposed to conflicts that bring idea generation to a halt. This builds positive thinking; shaping new perspectives that are willing to imbibe each other’s thought processes towards collective success.

Work Tip: In meetings and brainstorming sessions, try the improv “Yes, And…” method to foster more constructive discussions. Everyone is given a simple mandate – to listen to others and follow their ideas with a “Yes, And” instead of a “Yes, But” which is often heard in boardrooms. While the former breathes life into discussions by building on ideas, the latter tends to kill them.

  • Being creative. There is a type of fearlessness in Improv theatre as one gets to think laterally without the fear of being judged. There is a spontaneous arising of connections, new thoughts, free flowing ideas and epiphanies that lead to a pure form of self-discovery, untouched by any rules or regulations.

Work Tip: To inject some lateral thinking into your ideation sessions, try a simple game of connecting words. Start with any word and get a team member to say the first word that comes to mind with it, and then move on to another connecting word with the previous one. The word associations should be fast and spontaneous. Such free-flowing connections help stimulate the mind, opening new doors for creative thinking.

  • Being confident. Being silly, funny, sometimes outrageous, even awkward or confused are all prerequisites to Improv theatre. Anything goes! And it is all without judgment. In the process, you stop taking yourself too seriously, own up to your mistakes, shed your inhibitions and make the most of the situation. It is a great way to build confidence.

Work Tip: A great way to build confidence in one’s thinking is to juggle the right and left brain thinking simultaneously. Get your team members together to throw challenges at one another where one needs to solve a math equation and visually describe a story one after the other.

  • Embracing Uncertainty. While doing improv, one can never be sure of what one will encounter on stage. Initially, this can be unnerving but eventually it fosters a sense of comfort with uncertainty. And one begins to observe how uncertainty is a great driver of creative thinking.

Improvisational theatre has taught me a great deal about myself. It is a process of self-discovery unlike any other, as it pushes us to the fringes of our imaginations, the heights of our mental abilities, the open spaces right outside the boxes of our thinking. It is a space of endless surprises and discoveries, where you often go in with one mindset and step out with another!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
Mindfulness improv theatre creativity mental stimulation

Anshu Daga

The author is creative entrepreneur and performing arts enthusiast. She is also trained in Forum Theatre and runs a theatre group. Prior to establishing The Inner Startup, Anshu has been a creative and strategic communications specialist for over 15 years

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