Yes, and…

Learning to fail and improve through improv.

I’m a big huge fan of improv comedy. The city of Atlanta, the location of our headquarters, has a strong selection of improv groups to check out. When traveling, I purposely seek out different theaters to visit. Each group has its own actors, rules, and types of performances and every show is different. Recently at Big Nerd Ranch, a group of engineers including myself participated in an internal improv workshop. We learned to fail fast, and that’s a good thing.

Keeping it Classy

When working with clients on their projects in an agile environment, effective communication and flexibility are key. To help broaden those skills, our group met over a series of four weeks to laugh, pretend, listen, and laugh some more. A local improv instructor came into our office every week and took us through various exercises. The challenges included individual performances as well as group scenes. As we quickly realized, this class was a lot like our client projects — staying on your toes and working together are important to success.

One of the key tenets with improv is “Yes, and…”. When presented with a topic or change in scene, the actor is encouraged to use this mantra. Instead of denying the change, you take the change in stride and build upon it. Initially, this was a little hard to swallow, but with practice, our scenes became easier and funnier.

Spaghetti on the Wall

Every week, we built upon our prior lessons. Short scenes turned into longer scenes. Single performances turned into group performances. Actors had to listen to each other to keep the scene moving. Ideas were constantly being tested and built upon. Scenes were built upon listening and trusting your team. No ideas were rejected. It was always “Yes, and…”.

When working on a project, it’s good to noodle on ideas. As my coworkers would attest, puns are an everyday thing with me. I know that every idea or joke will not work. But I keep trying until something sticks to the wall. The same thing applies to my work method. There is no wrong answer. I will keep throwing out ideas until something works. My Sketch files include a ton of artboards, each with a different twist, building upon the last version.

Learning to Fail

My favorite lesson from improv — it’s ok to fail. And when you do fail, fail fast. During our class, when a team member forgot to repeat something, or lost their train of thought, we would applaud them and try again. When you apply this method of thinking to your project team and organization, the benefits are limitless. You learn that being a team member is more than showing up. To learn from failure, you have to effectively communicate with your team and your client by both talking and listening. The only wrong answer is “No”. Uncertainty is guaranteed and you have to become comfortable with that idea.

Fail Yes

I learned a lot about myself and my coworkers during our classes. Each member of a project brings a unique perspective to a project. By listening to and trusting your team, you can always be prepared to say “Yes, and…”.