A couple of years ago, I enrolled in an improv class to think better on my feet and to maybe grow a funny bone or two.
Actors can do it. Why couldn’t I?
Spoiler: You won’t see me on stage anytime soon. But my experience in that class — mostly failures — made me a better product manager. In that class, as in business, listening before you overthink will deliver a better line, a louder laugh and a more usable product.
In class, we’d gather in a large circle and wait for a prompt to say a phrase in a certain theme, FAST.
It was loud and so much was going on, it was hard to focus. If you missed a cue, there was generally some “punishment” such as jumping in the circle and doing a three-second dance. In the beginning, I was so worried about that dance I’d focus too much on what to say next. That, in turn — you guessed it — yielded the opposite of what I was trying to achieve.
When acting in scenes, someone would say a random crazy thing and I’d have to respond. In order to keep the scene moving, you have to use the “yes, and” method: Agree with what they said and somehow add to it. I realized if I worried about being “right” or “funny,” I was sure to let my partner down because I hadn’t focused on his cue.
Dancing like a lunatic isn’t so bad. But what is bad is worrying about failure – because that causes failure.