Shine Theory = Improv Rule

I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch a lot of the Olympics.

I have absolutely nothing against watching — we just don’t have channels and I much prefer the recaps or dedicating my limited Chrome Casting to food shows. But I heard about the incredible moment last week involving two of the women’s 5000-meter runners. In case you missed it, two female runners collided and fell. Instead of getting pissed off for the mistake, or angry they fell, or resentful they were injured, or upset they wouldn’t win, they actually helped each other in order to finish the race. One was injured to the point of hobbling, and the other supported her until she could stand alone.

I’m not crying for the 100th time about this, you are.

While this IS an incredible moment in show(wo)manship, writer Ann Friedman correctly identifies the beauty of Shine Theory in her NY Magazine article. Shine Theory is essentially the idea that if I shine, you do too — cast the light on others around you, and if everyone is casting light, you all look incredible. I shine, you shine.

This. Is. So. Improv.

As an improviser, my now defunct improv team had problems. Aside from a narcissistic director that at best thought we were a group of losers, we had a lot of people who were in it for themselves. This is the death knell of improv teams. See, improv is all about elevation — people work together to create a reality out of a mere suggestion. It’s where the idea of Yes, And comes along — you take a suggestion, affirm it, add to it, and essentially elevate it. Tina Fey gives the best example of Yes, And:

One person says, “Stick ’em up!” and another says, “That’s not a gun, it’s your hand.” That’s negation — no good. Essentially you’re calling the idea dumb. Next situation, same “Stick ’em up!” and the response this time is, “Oh no! Here take my money!” Simple yes, but doesn’t really add anything. Final situation, same “Stick ’em up!” and this time the response is, “GASP! And the gun I gave you for Christmas, you bastard!”

See the difference?

Back to the now dissolved improv team. Those people in it for themselves? They were the ‘stars’ of the show. They wanted the laugh, and if you couldn’t keep up, too bad, they were there for themselves and their own professional and personal agenda. Even our director kept the theatre for a NYC presence that helped his other, non-NYC theatre — he didn’t bother putting work or care into the slowly dying NYC theatre. It’s not surprising the theatre failed — we were a group of improvisers who couldn’t even Yes, And one another. I shine, who cares if you shine.

Fast-forward to owning a business teaching non-actors improv for personal and professional development. One of the first things we teach students? Make other people look good. If you are doing an improv activity that requires you to do what another person says, and they say something you have NO CLUE how to do, you still do it to the best of your ability. Because in improv, you are the best at what you do. I don’t care if you have no idea what something looks like — you are the best we’ve ever seen. You don’t call someone out for being ‘wrong’ or ‘weird’ in a conversation — you run with the pivot, move with the ‘mistake’ and follow it, continuing to elevate that other person and their ideas. Because by running with that idea and adding to it, and knowing that other person IS ALSO running with it, and elevating it, guess what? Shine Theory in action. You shine, I shine, we Yes, And.

I’d be lying if I said that improv mentality doesn’t also completely color how I conduct business and life. About a year ago, I left NYC for greener pastures — literally — in Winston Salem, NC. I had no clue what would happen to the business in NYC. To keep a long story short, I was able to not only grow the business in my new home fairly quickly, but also increase our NYC presence because of an absolutely incredible and dedicated team. I surrounded myself in NYC with strong, talented and amazing people — we not once were or ever would compete against one another. We all do what we can to elevate one another, and in turn, all win. We shine.

There are people who are the opposite of Shine Theory. I think I’m going to coin the term Shade Theory — if you shine, you’re causing me not to shine.

This is bunk.

These are the people Friedman identifies in the earlier mentioned article — simply put, they believe you got the promotion, so they won’t because of your promotion. You got the guy, they are single because you’re not. I’ve actually had people (‘friends’) say ‘Are you actually that happy?’ and then flat out ignore my engagement/marriage/company excitement. Sounds terrible huh? But we do it — people think because someone else gets something we won’t, we have to claw and scratch and fight to ‘win’ —the truth it, it’s in us to elevate ourselves by elevating others. Other people don’t get us in trouble or make us look bad — a lot of the time, that’s all you.

So instead of competing against each other, creating this hierarchy that doesn’t really exist, instead of throwing shade (see what I did there? SHADE THEORY!) try to elevate someone else instead of pushing your own agenda. Call it Shine Theory, call it improv’s Yes, And — just look out for more than yourself. And if this all works, someone will be looking out for you too, and think of how much better you’ll both be.