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What’s the Point of Creativity?

We talk a lot about creativity. What is it, exactly? How do we foster it? Who does it best? 

In last week’s Harvard Business Review, social entrepreneur Dan Polleta shifts the conversation by asking, “Why Creativity?” His answer:

I believe that the best creativity comes from a much deeper place than the desire to win. It comes from a desire to contribute to the lives of others, either by introducing something new that improves the quality of their lives or by showing people that something thought to be impossible is in fact possible. When you change people’s perceptions about what can be accomplished or achieved, you contribute to their humanity in the richest possible way.

Polleta argues that most contemporary writing about innovation is missing the point, which is to make life better. Is there a place for unbridled creativity, that is — innovation without pragmatism?

Secrets of Effective Office Humor

A well-timed joke can diffuse tension, facilitate honest feedback, and foster loyalty. But the wrong comment can flop. So how do you refine your comedic instincts for a professional audience? 

The Wall Street Journal’s “Secrets of Effective Office Humor” shares simple tips to help you hone your humor for the office, along with compelling research indicating comedy’s hardcore benefits to the work world. Here’s a sampling:

Employers like to hire people with a sense of humor, research shows. And mixing laughter and fun into a company culture can attract skilled workers, according to a study last year in the journal Human Relations. A 2011 study at Pennsylvania State University found that a good laugh activates the same regions of the brain that light up over a fat bonus check.

Read the article in its entirety here.

Celebrating the Unexpected

By Chelsea Clarke

At times in my life, I’ve thought there must be some trick to feeling comfortable around unfamiliar people, places and situations. Sometimes, I’d miss the confidence boat, and I’d feel uncomfortable or out of the loop with a new group of people. Other times, I’d feel like myself: confident, somewhat extroverted, and silly. But I always hated meeting new people and starting new jobs because it meant starting the whole process over, and I couldn’t predict whether I would get into the right groove. 

The new endeavors—jobs, schools, parties, friendships—I have felt most comfortable in share a common link: I showed a little bravery early, and it made all the difference. Maybe this was making a joke on the first day of class, or sharing an honest moment with a new coworker. But it was taking a small social risk, even when I was feeling uncomfortable, that gave a great return. 

To some extent, I had to fake it until I made it. Improv comedy works that muscle of pursuing fear. It requires us to be comfortable in unfamiliar situations, and to be aware and present in the moment instead of clinging to a plan. 

In my day to day life, I feel much more confident sharing ideas, being creative, having fun right away. I travel to teach workshops to high-powered executives and accomplished teams on their turf, something I never could have imagined doing before. And in social situations, I am friendly and make friends much easier. On the whole, I like my interactions with people, both in work and personal life, better since becoming an improviser. 

Sure, dealing with new situations still makes me nervous every once in a while, but improv has not only made me more brave than before, but has decreased my anxiety time. Improv helped me feel how rewarding it is to be fearless, which has turned my impulses to bail or become uncharacteristically introverted into impulses to be open, funny, and nonjudgmental of myself and others. 

Improv for Innovation

By Ari Voukydis

Too often in any group creative endeavor the fear of failure weighs us down and makes us ordinary, so we pitch ideas safely or tentatively. What if you were able to create an environment in which we embraced failure as a perfect teaching tool, and rewarded the people who went out on a limb?

UCB is predicated on the idea that if you and I step onstage together, I have one singular, overriding goal: To make you look like an absolute friggin’ genius. My goal is not to get laughs, or create art, or look good… it’s to make sure that you do. And the trick is, you are doing the same for me.

It’s not rocket science that the team who stops at nothing to make each other look good is going to go further than the team who stops at nothing to make each of themselves look good. The rocket science part is getting everyone into a headspace where they can truly put the group’s welfare above their own. And nothing is better for teaching that experience than improv, because in improv if your team works together, you will succeed. And if your team doesn’t trust each other, you will fail. Period. End of story.

At UCB we strive to create a culture of YES-AND. This means that when someone presents an idea, everyone is immediately on board. Not a second is spent evaluating the quality of the idea — plenty of time for that after the show. In the moment that idea, no matter how silly or ill-conceived it might appear, is treated by everyone on the team like it deserves a Nobel prize. I may have a great scene in my mind about Abe Lincoln, but if before I say anything my scene partner says, “Happy 13th birthday, Sarah. Your father and I bought you a pony,” then I’m going to shelve my own idea and dive into that pony party like it’s freakin’ HAMLET.

Once you can get your team to a place where they know that any idea - simple, complicated, smart or dumb - is going to be embraced and celebrated, what’s going to happen is that people are going to be willing and eager to toss out their weirder, more off-the-beaten-track ideas. And this will lead to a whole lot more ideas that don’t go anywhere, but it will also lead to brilliant stuff that has never been done. Why? Because all the safe ideas have already been done, and if successful innovation were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Let me close with a horrible and yet apt business cliché: You are more apt to go out on a limb if you’re certain that your team is gathered beneath, waiting to catch you, than if they’re crouched behind you, sawing the damn thing off.

Don’t Fear Mistakes; Just Adjust

By Will Hines

Success doesn’t mean making fewer mistakes. It just means recovering more quickly. The term I like to use is “agility.”  Improv teaches you that mistakes are nothing to fear as long as you have the agility to adjust yourself quickly. Agile brands and professionals understand and deftly recover from “mistakes.”

I put “mistakes” in quotes because something that was initially a mistake will end up being helpful, given enough adjustments. But let’s say a mistake is something that at least temporarily stops the scene or company from moving forward. These happen all the time. A rookie will be so dismayed that they impeded their scene or damaged their brand that they’ll freeze up. The veteran knows the way out of a problem is to move THROUGH it.

In 2011, Netflix tried to separate its service of streaming movies away as a separate brand called “Qwikster.” However, the decision was met with criticism and mockery and many industry blogs declared the move a mistake. After a week, the CEO cancelled the new brand and simply introduced a new pricing plan for the streaming service.  So was “Qwikster” a mistake? Probably. But because of a quick correction, there was no lasting harm done; Netflix is currently the most-watched ‘cable network’ in America.

My favorite improv example of overcoming a mistake comes from a graduation performance of a class I taught. After a few scenes, a student came out and started flapping his arms to indicate he was a bird. Normally, another student would join and the two would do a scene. But for some reason, no one stepped out. The first student was out there alone, silently flapping his arms, looking nervous and abandoned. A few people in the crowd tittered; they could tell something was going wrong. After a full minute of silence, another ran across the stage, which is the agreed upon signal that the scene was over. Then, two OTHER people stepped out to do a new scene.

This was a HUGE failure on the class’ part. To abandon a fellow classmate and then to just end the scene without addressing it was as big a “mistake” as I could imagine. I sat in the audience mortified that I had taught this class. Then after a few scenes, the same student stepped out AGAIN and flapped his arms. AGAIN, NO ONE JOINED HIM. He stood there in silence and flapped his arms. Except this time, the audience started giggling. It was becoming a pattern, and patterns are funny. A few of his classmates exchanged looks with each other as they thought about joining him. Instead, someone simply ran across the stage and ended the scene again. The audience laughed moderately and a few people applauded.  A few more scenes went by.

For a THIRD TIME, the student came out and flapped his arms. This time, a few students joined him, then a few more — each flapping his/her arms. Soon they had formed a “V” of birds on the stage. The initial student looked to his left and right and saw that everyone had joined him and they all simultaneously “flapped” off the stage together. The audience exploded in applause.

Afterwards, I overheard someone saying “How did they know to not go out the first two times?” They didn’t know. They made a mistake. But they adjusted, and so… everything was fine.

The point is: there is no point in being scared of mistakes. Just be ready to adjust.

Your iPhone Is Killing Your Creativity

Want to come up with a great idea? Try turning off your phone.

Your brain enjoys being stimulated, and smartphones satisfy that urge with a steady stream of information. You successfully stave off boredom each time you check your Twitter feed. But boredom is an important, unglamorous step in the creative process

A recent article in Fast Company recommends stepping away from your iPhone and building boredom into your brain’s diet. 

In the same way that what we eat when we’re hungry has short- and long-term consequences, the actions we take when we’re bored have ongoing outcomes. So says NYU’s Gary Marcus: if you’re bored and use that energy to play an instrument and cook, you’ll be growing; if you drool before your television, you might be happy for a second, but that stimulation junk food will depress you later.

Since most of what we do on our phones is the daily dillydallying of social networks, playing games, and texting, your iPhone acts like an endless supply of Cheetos.

Read the article in it’s entirety here

Is giving the secret to getting ahead? According to New York Times Magazine’s most recent cover article, the answer may be yes. The article explores theories developed by Adam Grant, a tenured professor at the prestigious Wharton School. His research indicates that helping others stimulates increased productivity and creativity in the workplace.

To complement this cover story, New York Times Magazine asked comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele to demonstrate workplace altruism to the extreme. This short video is the entertaining result.

The Fundamentals of Improv in the Workplace

Veteran UCB performer and instructor Ari Voukydis recently shared his insights on improv in the workplace with Funding Gates, a blog that features management tips. This excerpt summarizes the nuts and bolts of improv as a management training tool.

Before making improvisation a part of your management training, it is important to know what it’s really all about:

1) It’s Not About Comedy:  As Ari Voukydis puts right on the table, “Improv is not about comedy. It’s about clarity, communication and a willingness to change.”

2) “Yes” And…:  As Ari points out, we “are naturally risk adverse” as people, which can make it easy for us to say no to things. But as Frank Blocker explains, improv is about “saying yes to everything. You have to give your partner something to work with. You must advance the dialogue.” Amy Roeder expounds, saying “What that boils down to is that it is the improvisor’s job to hear the offer their partner is making, acknowledge it and then build off that idea by contributing their own ideas.” That’s why “Yes, And…” is a staple in improvisation.  As Amy points out, “it has become terribly easy to say no, which is why improvisational training tends to be so revolutionary for businesses. In the work I do with businesses, we spend a lot of time working on the idea of acceptance, of saying “yes” to an idea to see just how efficiently and collaboratively people can work together.”

3) Listen, listen, listen: Roeder believes the idea behind “yes, and…” is “active and engaged listening”. She says,”It is impossible to build on your partner’s idea if you didn’t fully hear that idea.”As Frank states, “Through listening, you can see where the storyline should and/or could advance. Close your mouth and you’ll have a few seconds of good thinking time, inspired by what you’re hearing.” Ari adds, “Listening is manifesting a willingness to change”. As he reminds, this is one of the most “important skills in any creative endeavor.” In improv, it teaches us (in Voukydis’ words), to “disengage that normal part of your brain that tries to avoid failure and capture that as nature’s teaching tool.”

4) Always Pick a Leader: In improv, Blocker says, “Someone should always be the leader. Dueling leaders becomes yelling. And one leader can keep you on point. The “lead” can switch, but only when you’ve created a good working dialogue or some sort of framework.”

5) Make Your Partner Look Like a Genius: Ari says the best way to excel at improv “is to make your partner look like a genius. Almost nobody operates that way instinctually. If you listen, are unselfish and set each other up, you will succeed. And if you don’t, you won’t.”

The full article is available here

(Source: )

Wondering what really happens in an improv class? Take a rare peek into one of UCB Training Center’s classrooms with Rock Center. You’ll see Will Hines, Academic Supervisor for UCBNY, directing advanced students in exercises designed to build connectivity and cooperation. Also in this short video, Rock Center’s Willie Geist discusses the transformative nature of improv comedy with UCB co-founders Matt Walsh and Amy Poehler.

(Source: nbcnews.com)

Why (and How) to Build Trust at Work

By Shannon O’Neill

Before shows, many improvisers look into their teammates eyes and say “Got your back.” This is an expression of trust. Regardless of what happens on stage, the members of the improv team will support each other. Nobody will be left alone to struggle on stage, nobody’s ideas will be ignored, nobody will feel left out.

When an improviser steps on stage and verbalizes an idea for a scene, their teammate joins and supports the idea. They continue to do this and create a successful scene. This is a result of trust.

Improv builds trust.

To successfully work as a team, whether the team is made up of two people or twenty people, the members have to trust each other. This goes for sports teams, improv teams and teams created in the workplace.

Nobody likes to be micromanaged. You want to know that an assignment was given to you because you can handle it. You want to give someone an assignment because you know they can handle it.  It feels good to be trusted and to trust. Studies show that employees who feel trusted will demonstrate higher levels of productivity, enhanced creativity and innovation.

When students are first learning how to improvise there is usually a lack of trust, both in themselves and their classmates. But through exercises in class, the students learn that in order to have successful scenes, they have to trust themselves and more importantly, each other. And when they finally allow this to happen, their scenes are better and they start to discover that they are capable of more than they realized.

This also translates into the workplace. When colleagues trust each other, they will have more confidence while completing their assigned tasks, which often leads to superior work and ultimately greater profits.

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