So, how do we – creative people I mean – keep on coming up with ideas day in and day out? It’s not magic, it’s not some secret instruction book we’ve all read, and it’s not divine intervention. Coming up with ideas is work. But it’s work we can ALL learn how to do if we are willing to better listen to ourselves and our creative partners.
Before we get going, let me tell you a little bit about who we are and why we think that learning more about improvisational comedy can make your creative life a whole lot better.
I’m Tug. I have been a writer, a performer and really just sort of a loud, boisterous guy since high school. (read: class clown.) Some say I am funny. Others? Well, let’s just stick with the “some say” for now. I have also been an advertising/marketing creative for just about 28 years. That whole time my main job has been to think stuff up.
I’m Darrin. I was part of the house improv troupe performing weekly at the world-famous Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle in the Detroit area. 13 plus years weekly equals many many hours of live stage time. The stage/improv brought everything I now currently enjoy in my life: I met my wife (who started the troupe), became a comedic impressionist for ESPN and sports radio, and ended up getting into my current VP CD position in marketing / promotions and loyalty for Merkle. Been doing this kind of work now for the past 18 years.
So, now that you can see we know what we are talking about, here are just a few ways we think embracing some of the tenets of improv comedy and applying them to your daily creative endeavors is the key to having more fun and coming up with more ideas.
The first big tenet of improv comedy is to always say “Yes, and…” That means that whatever the person in front of you said, you HAVE to say “YES.” But you also have to add to the conversation, scene or, in our case, the idea.
Darrin: The aliens have landed!
Tug: They have three heads.
Darrin: Right, but why does the middle head look like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson?
In this scenario, Tug HAS to agree that the aliens have landed. Then he adds to the story. Then Darrin continues down the road Tug started by agreeing they have three heads and describing one of them.
It’s no different than when you are in brainstorm or concepting session. LISTEN to what the other people are coming up with and try to be additive. Agree with their statement, build upon it. What you say really doesn’t matter as long as you honor their initial thought.
Now look, creativity is problem solving with relevance and novelty, so the initial thought (our aliens example above) needs to be on topic. If you are selling dog food, there may not really be a place for aliens. But maybe there is a place for them. Let the conversation flow and see where it takes you.
BECOME THE PERSON YOU ARE TALKING TO
Improv is performing, it’s acting. And when you are acting, you have to not only put yourself in someone else’s place, you have to actually become them. Thinking about creative marketing ideas is no different. You need to embrace the target audience you are speaking to; you need to BECOME them for a moment.
Place yourself in their brain. Be the voice of the brand. Speak directly to them like you are talking person to person.
Again, if the target are Area 51 enthusiasts who love their dogs – maybe an alien spokesperson is the right way to go. Trying to become the target audience, if only for a moment, will help you understand them better so you can talk to them clearly and memorably.
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
Remember that when you are coming up with ideas, it’s much more fun if you make it a team sport. That way you can assure that you are not alone, that there is someone else on the other side of the stage, the whiteboard or the video chat that is just waiting to YES AND your idea.
You say red, I say blue, but what is the actual idea? Purple. BANG! We’ve just come up with an idea! (Cue the clinking glasses of champagne.)
When you work as a team, you make it easier on everyone’s fragile creative egos. You make it OK to not know. And because you trust your partners, you don’t have to have every answer. You don’t have to come up with every single idea yourself. That is a daunting place to live, we can both tell you.
Trust your partners. Trust your crazy ideas. Just trust that something will come out. That an idea will rise to the top. (It will. It always does.)
Look, everyone knows coming up with ideas out of thin air is hard. Really hard. So stop worrying so much. If you have a crazy thought that you think is stupid, shout it out. And if it entails aliens trying to sell dog food to people, or something else that’s seemingly nonsensical, say it.
Don’t be afraid to look foolish or to say something “wrong.” These foolish ideas might be either great or terrible. But either way you allowed them to be born into the world. And someone will either take your idea and champion it, or they will YES AND it into some other idea that’s even better.
Then you will both end up with an idea that is cleaner, simpler, or quicker. That gets more into the head of the target, that solves the problem in a way neither of you could have thought of alone.
THE LAST THING
Have fun. As we have often said over the years – we’re not rocket scientists. We are not doctors. This is not life or death, it’s advertising. So come up with an idea and shout it out to the world. See what someone else can make of it. And then do it again and again and again.
And … scene.