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.