In Business, Creativity
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ltogether too many people hate their jobs. Company cultures have a lot to overcome. My facebook feed is littered with people griping about their bosses, complaining about customers, and using “TGIF” like a clarion call to freedom. But the freedom is short lived. Do a quick google image search for “Monday.”

  • “I hate Mondays.”
  • “If Monday had a face, I’d punch it.”
  • “Look on the bright side… At least Mondays only happen once a week.”
  • “My week: Monday, Monday 2, Monday 3, Monday 4, Friday, Saturday, Pre-Monday.”

Apparently, Monday has a lot of detractors. If you haven’t thought about this before, think about it now. TGIF Monday haters are not giving their employers their best. With those beliefs about workdays, how could they?

But it’s not their fault. I blame culture. I blame schools. I blame, “Yabadabadoo!”

However we got here, we must take back the world of work. Work can be good. For more and more of us, work is good. And we’re learning about how business thrives when workers view work as good. And an increasing number of companies are taking the need for work that’s good for workers seriously. Tech companies are early adopters of great company culture as a value. Infusionsoft, for instance, has gone so far as to hire a “Dream Manager,” whose job is to see to it that employees are attaining their dreams. Go, Dan Ralphs!

Some tech companies exist to serve the employees of other companies. Limeade, for example, sells whole-person wellness tech to companies nationwide to help them keep culture buoyant and employees happy and healthy. I recently recorded an interview with Dr. Laura Hamill, the Chief People Officer at Limeade. It was a great conversation about what makes for a great place to work, about how to get the most from your greatest resource — your people — and about company culture. (You’re going to want to listen to that podcast episode when we release it.)

Dr. Hamill says, “Culture is an employment benefit.” Culture is an increasingly important component of recruitment, engagement, and retention efforts in the best companies in the world. Workers are coming to demand great culture. And as Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

The Yes Works is also in the business of engineering and supporting great company culture. Our clients know people matter. Habits of interaction matter. Relationships matter.

Culture lives in relationship habit.

What are great business relationship habits? To us at The Yes Works, a great business relationship is marked by health and synergy: the ability for those within the relationship to produce more, better work within the relationship than they would have been able to produce without it, and the ability and the likelihood to continue doing so into the future. Applying principles of theater improv can strengthen and enliven business relationships — within a company, with clients, with vendors, and with your network at large.

Improv is rich relationship soil with many components. Just ask Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo. He recommends that you, “Manage your company like an improv group.“The following four principles constitute a powerful first glance into improv for business. Take a deep breath before you proceed. This is simple stuff… Each principle is simple. Even taken together as the beginning of a system, it’s simple. But simple don’t make it easy. As you engage with these ideas, consider what you recognize — for better and for worse — in yourself and your work relationships. This is personal. Let it be.

 

Yay for Failing: It’s temporary, inevitable, and full of useful information.

Nobody likes to go down in a flaming blaze of nope. Essentially, there are two ways that people respond to a TRY and MISS: Some people tuck their tails between their legs and have trouble afterward looking themselves in the eye. Others shrug, dust off, and try again. Thomas Edison, for instance, is reputed to have said, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” Imagine having a boss who thought that way about your work.

“Yay for Failing” is a perspective, not a celebration of accomplishing nothing. With a “Yay for failing” mentality, you can fall down hard and get back to work without a long mourning period and without shame. Shame is a serious enemy of productivity, contribution, and collaboration. Without fear of failure, people work with great intensity and a keen eye to purpose.

With a “Yay for failing” culture, created and lived by a “Yay for failing” leadership, nothing gets swept under the rug. Missed deadlines are not hidden, so timely adjustments can be made. Failures are acknowledged and reviewed for their lessons. Team members work transparently so others can learn from them, and so they can be effectively coached themselves.

It’s not often any individual failure that costs business time, money, and opportunity on a large scale. It’s failure to recognize failure early, and to respond to it healthfully, and to embrace each failure as a step on the path. And failure punished or ridiculed costs even more in abysmal morale, and diminished risk taking, and declining eagerness to contribute.

 

Got Your Back: We’re stronger, more resilient, and more capable together.

Working on a team or working alone, not one of us can do it on our own. We need support, insight, help, and encouragement from others no matter what our work is.

“Got Your Back” is a principle that gets deeper and more profound the more you use it. On the face of it, “Got Your Back” means I’ll help you out when you need it. Call on me, and I’ll be there. As a principle of improv, it means that I’m committed to making you, my team member, look good. It means I’ll back your play when the chips are down. It means I’ll anticipate your needs, by knowing you well. It means I’m always a servant to our shared purpose.

It means I’m looking for the gold in your contributions. If you’ve put forward an idea that could never work, would never work, you’ve put that idea forward with good intentions, and with wisdom. I’m on the lookout for the value within your intentions. We call that, “making sense of the non-sense.” As a result of my treasure hunting your idea, you feel good. You know you’re valued. You experience that your contributions matter. And the team’s purpose is advanced even by unworkable ideas. No intellectual capital goes to waste.

Too often, co-workers throw one another under the bus — in order to shift blame away from themselves, in order to look better by comparison, in order to play for self-advancement.

“Got Your Back” is an incomparable tool for an effective company culture of collaboration.

 

Everything Is an Offer: Our minds are designed to make associations that creatively address the problems we face without our even trying — if we give ourselves the freedom.  We are all natively creative problem solvers.

In improv, a living creation is built on a single idea — the first offer. We define an offer as anything at all that your mind can take inspiration from, associate with, and respond to. In other words, everything is an offer. Your brain responds to everything that you give attention to. Everything.

A speck of dust can become a marketing idea. If I say, “speck” out loud, that could lead you to think of the bacon-like Swiss cured meat, speck. If you give voice to that association, it may occur to me that we could find a way to take advantage of the popularity and viral nature of the bacon fad to sell our vacuum cleaners. (Let’s just assume for the sake of argument that using bacon to sell vacuums is a good idea.)

Too many of us live our lives believing, “I am not creative.” Non-sense. Each of us has creativity. Each of us makes different associations given the same stimulus. Permit yourself to value that association (and from “Got Your Back” above, also to the stimulus), and you’ll find your brain supplies you with boundless ideas. And each idea you express is stimulus — an offer — for someone else.

This kind of association won’t always lead you and your team in a straight line, but this is the stuff that breeds innovation. Defining your culture as one in which everything is an offer creates a fertile ground for association. Innovation is association plus execution.

 

Yes, And: Notice the power of acceptance — of your ideas, of others’ ideas — and the unstoppable creativity of every human mind.

Clearly, these principles have overlapping implications. The practice of “Yes, And” would have you accept that every offer has merit. Sometimes the merit is buried a bit.

In the workplace,  practicing “Yes, And” means that no ideas are dismissed. In communication, you would deliberately discipline yourself to make sense of the non-sense. To accept that the idea before you has merit, and to contribute your associations to the discussion. This is a concrete method of having your team mate’s back.

Here’s how that might play out. Gary comes to you with an idea for a new product line. “We should keep making vacuum cleaners, but make them single-use vacuum cleaners.” On the face of it, this sounds nuts. Who’s going to buy a single-use vacuum cleaner? If you tell Gary that his idea is stupid or that he sounds crazy, he’s going to stop contributing. He may even take his ideas to your competitor.

How could you employ “Yes, And”? The easiest way might be, “Ok (your yes). I don’t see it yet. Tell me more (your and).” As you advance with the skill of “Yes, And,” your response might be, “I like the way you’re thinking. That falls right in line with the conventional wisdom that to make lots of money you should sell something that people need, and that they’ll need to replace.” Gary will then likely get excited and tell you more about his idea. You may find that from his elaboration, you are able to glean some gold. As your skill becomes still more advanced, you might say, “There’s something to that! While I can’t see making all the vacuum components disposable in a way that’s environmentally sound or cost effective, I know that people do hate getting their hands dirty. With the vacuum industry going more and more bagless, touching the dust becomes a greater and greater problem for our customers. Let’s put our heads together to see if we can improve our user experience in that arena.”

 

So, simple, right? Simple, but challenging! Big-time challenging. But rewarding. Fulfilling, joy producing, and lucrative, to boot! And challenging.

That’s why when we work with teams, we promise, “No ineffective, powerpoint lecturing yak-yak.” Because, it’s one thing to understand this stuff, and it’s another thing altogether to put it into practice. In the exercises and activities we facilitate with the teams we support, participants PRACTICE. And PRACTICE again. We give each participant  many, many reps of practice in each hour we spend together. Because, reps build skills. Skills repeated build habits. Healthy habits make up healthy culture. And healthy culture is self-perpetuating.

Try using these principles yourself. Define these principles as a part of your company’s culture and ask your team to put them into play. If you find you cannot overcome the force of habit (bad habit) that prevents people from this kind of generous behavior (or if you see the potential and want your team to be great at employing it) call on The Yes Works to learn how we can help you create an improv culture in your company.

Aaron Schmookler
Aaron Schmookler is Co-Founder and Trainer at The Yes Works, dedicated to helping companies create and maintain a culture of communication, collaboration, and innovation through improv training dynamically correlated to the real work of real teams. Improv: The competitive advantage you’ve been looking for.
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