Improv in design meetings

I recently attended an improv class. Before I went in, I had no idea what to expect – which, I suppose, is the point.
During the course of that afternoon I learned a lot; primarily a whole bunch of ways I could loosen up my mind to break out of the ‘routine’ prior to attempting to generate ideas. I also discovered a few tips to help get over the ‘fear’ of standing up and giving a presentation, talk or just leading a discussion.
You’ll have to bear with me a little with regards to these notes; in the past I would have been sceptical about this; but five minutes into the class I was convinced. I would not expect to get the same results from reading a blog post but it might at least provide a few ideas for future research – or even to go and find a class.

Celebrate failure

… or… don’t get stuck, get over it…

The first point that was driven home was that it’s OK to fail. In this context, this was all about losing (or at least reducing) that self conscious sensation you might feel when doing something new in front of a group.

Everybody is equal
This is important; and hopefully can also remain unstated. Nobody has any more authority than anybody else during these sessions.

Find a way to celebrate
Simple; throw your hands in the air and say “woohoo”. Just do it.

Play a warm-up game…

Count to three – in pairs. First person says “one”, second says “two”, first says “three”, second says “one” etc.
Do this for a minute… celebrate failure.

Replace “one” with a click of the fingers. Try again.
Do this for a minute… celebrate failure.

Replace “two” with a clap. Try again.
Do this for a minute… celebrate failure.

Replace “three” with a stamp of the foot. Try again.
Do this for a minute… celebrate failure.

If you are still getting everything right – and moving at a reasonable rate – then I congratulate you (try 5 and add more moves…).

Loosen up

… your mind…

We all have preconceptions, misconceptions, fixed ideas about certain ways of working and mental blocks when it comes to accepting new ideas. As designers, we are better than many when it comes to that self check when we wonder ‘am I just applying my own rules to somebody else’s goal’. I strongly believe that finding any way to get ideas flowing – however off the wall – can only be a good thing.
So, the next thing to do is play a game – or a few games – to break down those barriers.

Game: Word association

Groups of 3 to 5, time 3 minutes

Each person says a word, next person says an associated word (to form a sentence/story). Keep the story moving.
First person says “I”, second says “don’t”, third says “like”, first says “custard” etc.
Need a full stop; say “full stop” then your next word.

Game: Story interjection

Groups of 2 to 3, time 3 minutes per person

One person starts to tell a story, any story, make something up.
As the story progresses, the other members of the group take turns (every few seconds) to say words, the story teller must include those words into the story. When the time limit hits, wind the story up quickly and swap to the next person.
Story teller says “Once upon a time, there were three small trees in a forest…”, second person interjects with “bucket”, story teller continues “… under one of those trees a shiny tin bucket was carefully balanced…” etc.

Game: Reminds me of…

Groups of 3 to 5, time 3 minutes per person

One person tells a story, a true story. At the end, they take an ‘item’ from that story and nominate another member of the group by saying “I take X from my world and give it to you”. Next member says “X reminds me of…” and tells their own story before passing it on again.
Story teller informs the group about a childhood story where they built a den out of scrap and spent the night with a friend trying to scare each other, at then end they take some “firewood” from their “world” and pass it to another group member. They take “firewood” and tell a story based on memories associated with the object.

Game: Lets pretend

Groups of 5 to 30, time group size * 30 seconds

One person pretends to be ‘something’ … a tree, a beach ball, whatever. Somebody else comes forward, finds an item to pretend to be that fits into the scene, then another person comes forward to fit in to that scene. The original person chooses which of the two new people to ‘take away’ with them. The next person steps up to join in with whatever the remaining person is pretending to be and the cycle continues.
First person states “I am a tree”, another steps up with “I am a swing attached to the tree” and third comes in with “I am a child on the swing”. The “tree” says “I shall take the child” and the two return to the crowd. A next person steps up and says “I am the rope attached to the swing” etc. etc.
It should be noted that the “child” should probably not actually attempt to sit on the “swing” :)

Celebrate failure

… don’t forget…

The earlier you fail, the quicker you move on, the faster you succeed.
Any time you pause, stumble, forget… “woohoo!”.

Add it to your work day

… and ignore the stares…

Power Poses
This is something that has been proved to change your blood chemistry; Take two minutes – alone – to stand in a classic power pose.
1. Arms held aloft, feet slightly wider than your shoulders. Feel powerful.
2. Hands on hips, feet slightly wide than your shoulders. Feel in control.
3. Seated, feet on the table, ankles crossed, hands behind your head. Feel the authority.

Arrange a session
Dont try to add this to all your meetings (unless you really can get away with it). Have a session – with your design team and, perhaps, a couple of others. Just find a meeting room and do it. They *will* think its strange. But after a minute or two of clicking fingers and stamping feet that group will relax.

Arrange an evening out to a class
If there is a class in the area, try to arrange for your team to attend with you. Hint; check it out yourself first.

Add a simple game to the start of idea generating sessions
Pick one of the shorter story interjection, word association type games to that start of a design meeting.
If nobody seems loose enough for that; do a quick ‘123’ session – do it often enough and in true pavlovian style, your team will relax.

In conclusion

This really helped open mind to the possibility of improv “play” to help with idea generation and general relaxation in potentially stressful situations. If you can find a way to introduce this to your team then I can only think it will help – and at the very worse you will have some fun.