Life as an improv game

Last year, I accidentally got myself and my wife into a walk-in improv class in San Francisco. It was one of those things that I had never done before due to cultural reasons and wanted to put myself out of my comfort zone by doing. We got there early, so we chatted with a few of the people there – some had done this before, others were new, just like us. The instructor then led us up there, in some old conference room belonging to the SF Chronicle. The instructor was a guy who worked as an Engineering Manager at Google and lots of the participants were techies, so we felt right at home.

The setup was not amazing, but we quickly forgot about it with a slew of games that made us more aware of each other, more in the moment.

More importantly, it showed me that I’m potentially good at this acting thing. I had thought the opposite my whole life. So I decided to double-down on it, by booking a full 6 week class of Improv I. If you’re in San Francisco, you can do it, too. It’s really easy, 3 hours every week, and if you miss a class or two, you can easily reschedule. To graduate, you need to attend at least 5 of the 6 classes.

I went there with an open mind and I got a lot more than I was expecting, hence this article. Improv, unlike standup comedy, is more about creativity and playing than it is about being funny or making jokes. Being able to play a scene and be consistent, authentic is what matters more than to be witty or crack the best punchline. Often, the best punchlines were the ones unplanned, the ones that came naturally as part of the relationship being played there.

I recently finished a book called “The Triangle of The Scene” – spoiler, it’s about improv. The author, Paul Vaillancourt, who’s an improv veteran, gives a little bit more structure around these plays and what makes them work – the relationships being built and played in the scenes

What I’m doing // What you’re doing // What we’re doing about it

Triangle of the scene

Reading this book and doubling down on my experience with the first improv class got me thinking about life and how we approach our relationships with others and with ourselves. There’s much to be learnt from the power of “yes, and” and the focus on relationships rather than the narrative. Try following your vocabulary at home and at work, see how many “yes, and”s you say and how many but’s, however’s, no’s and other negations we use on a regular basis.

I bet you’ll find the negative most often outweighs the positive. Try to flip that ratio for a week and see what happens. You may be very pleasantly surprised. Many leadership books and talks focus on getting people to prioritize positive relationships. Improv takes a different look at things.

Wish I had done this earlier in my life. Worth it and scheduling the next modules as soon as possible.

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