–Ben Kwan, Attorney

This month, the greater downtown Minneapolis community is welcoming the Brave New Workshop Student Union to the neighborhood.  Until just a few weeks ago, the improvisational comedy school convened classes at the Brave New Workshop’s original home on Hennepin Avenue in the Uptown neighborhood.  The Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal has a piece up about the school’s move downtown to some spacious digs across Hennepin Avenue from the Brave New Workshop’s downtown theater (I highly recommend a show there – their sketch comedy stuff or improv – the next time you’re in Minneapolis).

This fall, I signed up for the Student Union’s Everday 1 improv classes. So far, I have to say it’s been money well spent – each Wednesday I walk in somewhat tired after a long day and walk out feeling energized from laughing for the better part of two hours.  I lucked out and slotted into a class with some truly funny people.  My cohort and I are just over half way through with our weekly sessions.  With the Student Union’s move downtown, I thought it would be a nice time to reflect on some of the lessons from improv class that are transferrable to the workplace.  Yes, even a law firm.  Here are three that stick out from the first few weeks of class:

  1. Live the “yes, and” ethos.  The central tenet to doing improv is living and practicing the so-called “yes, and” mantra.  Because nothing is scripted or planned in advance, improv scenes are literally evolving as the audience sees and hears them.  How do scenes build and not flop?  The foundation is saying “yes, and . . .” to whatever your scene partners throw your way.  That’s “yes, and . . .,” and not, “yes, and?”  You don’t ask questions.  You wholly and unequivocally accept what’s given and build from there.  “No,” or questions stop the flow.  It’s been striking to see how the power of “yes” can help build collaboration, trust, and enjoyment.  I imagine practicing “yes, and” with peers at work would yield similar results.  How often do you catching yourself saying “no” at work?  Next time try yes, and…
  2. Shut up.  Walking into a room full of self-selecting improv class students can be a bit overwhelming.  Chances are, no matter how much these people profess to be shy or express a desire to be in the class because they want to get outside themselves, each of them is just waiting for the moment they get to light up the room with laughs.  And do it again.  And again.   I believe there’s a parallel to the meetings here at the law firm full of type-As who all have something to say.  Sometimes you have to shut up, hold back, and let others shine in the moment.  It takes self-control.  In improv class, they say you should serve your scene and your scene partners before you serve your own self-interest.  That idea can go a long way in the workplace, too.
  3. Don’t Self-Edit – Be Declarative.  What would it be like if we all said what we meant and meant what we said?  Oh, yeah, we Minnesotans would be living in New York.  Ha.   I kid.  One of the exercises we did in class last week was one where we let our inner-monologues outside of our heads, filter-free (to the extent that’s possible).  We’ve also worked on making direct statements that seem to roll off the tongue with slightly less inhibition.  When we say what we are thinking and say them in forceful, direct ways, we save ourselves from our typical communication foibles.  This would be great in the workplace, no?