7 Improv Principles That Build Your Business

The three years I spent immersed in the improv world changed my life.

Truly. I mean it. And one of the bonus side effects of studying improv so deeply for years is the positive effect it had on my work and on building my business. These seven improv principles are game-changers. If you can take the time to master them in your life, you’ll be better off. If you take the time to implement them into your business, so will your business. Some of the most unconventional thinking has led to some of the greatest innovations. Trust yourself.

1. Yes, And

“Yes, And” means “yes, I accept what you just put out there and I’m going to contribute to it.” It keeps the momentum going. Momentum halts if you run into a “Yes, but” or a “No, And.” Keep the flow in motion. This concept fundamentally changed my life. I use “yes, and” every single day. In meetings. During brainstorming sessions. When I’m head-down, earbuds in, working through a project. What else is “yes, and” besides being a foundational principle of improv? It’s a way to let ideas flow more effectively through collaboration.

Yes affirms.
Yes fosters creative expression.
Yes fuels growth.
Yes prevents conflict.
Yes keeps you open-minded.

When somebody comes to the table and has an idea i.e. “I think we should launch our new product in quarter two, not quarter one,” you have a choice to build off of their idea, or shut it down by saying, “No” or “But” or “That’s not possible.”

Instead, you can say, “Yes, and what if we started the marketing campaign in quarter one to lead into the quarter two launch.” Bam.

There are no bad ideas.

“Yes, and” ultimately facilitates collaboration with your people and makes space for ideas that can transform your business.

2. Listen

So often in improv, if you’re not listening one of two things happens: 1) you totally miss the opportunity to help out your fellow improviser or 2) you look like a total asshole because you’ve been so preoccupied holding your next “funny line” in your head for the last minute it now makes no sense.

Improv involves a complex interplay between two or more people. There’s responsiveness. There’s awareness (of both yourself and others). It’s difficult to create together if you’re not listening to each other. I mean, really listening.

To truly listen to somebody else, you have to hear them, understand them, and reflect back to them in your own words the content of what they said.

When you listen to the people you work with, it’s easier to create together. That includes new products or services, hitting your sales numbers, streamlining operations, developing skillsets, etc.

Without listening, it’s harder to empathize, understand, respect, and appreciate, essential parts of a happy work environment. Then what do you have? Communication that falls flat. Without it, your team productivity isn’t what it could be.

You need button-up communication to build your business. Start by listening.

3. Be Present

You are here. You have to be here to really contribute. This is true in improv, life, and business. There’s definitely a time and a place for solo creation. But when you need to create together, make sure you’re present.

Are you emotionally connecting with your work and your people?

Are you just going through the motions or actively involved?

Is your mind on your to-do list or what you’re going to eat for dinner?

Being present is leadership gold. Great leaders show up, in body and mind. When you’re “there” you’ll have a finger on the pulse of your business. You’ll be able to invest more in your team. You’ll be prepared to offer solutions. You’ll be quicker to act. All thanks to improv.

4. Play

When you’re improvising on stage, endorphins are firing. You are living in a world of make-believe where anything is possible. Play. Explore. Create. You walk onto stage with a blank canvas every time. People don’t do improv because they have to, they do it because they want to. It’s fun, energizing, and exhilarating.

Bring play into your business.

Make work fun. Ask your people about their lives. Tell Dad jokes. Bring snacks to brainstorming sessions. Get together to drink champagne on a Thursday night.

You’re building your business because it’s in alignment with your life’s purpose, and if your life’s purpose doesn’t bring you joy, it’s time to reevaluate.

Let your joy all hang out at work. Play.

5. Stay Curious

Gah, I love curiosity. Curiosity is superpower and I think it makes the world go round. In Brene Brown’s book, Atlas of the Heart, she talks about how curiosity involves the head and the heart. There’s emotion in curiosity. And I think that’s true in improv, life, and business. Curiosity keeps your ideas fresh, your approach open-minded, and your results innovative. You can’t create without curiosity.

Curiosity prevents confirmation bias.
Curiosity ensures all ideas, including the best, see the light of day.
Curiosity keeps your approach fluid, approachable, and gentle.
Curiosity removes barriers to innovation.
Curiosity reduces conflict.

Seriously. Think of how the following might land for you:

“No. Your idea doesn’t work, and we need to move on.”


“Hmmm, interesting. I’d like to better understand, tell me more.”

It’s good stuff. Really good stuff.

6. Be a Team Player

Improv is a classic team sport without the scoreboard (unless the prompt is a sports game). Every player is valuable and every player needs to contribute to make it shine. It’s the same when you’re building a business.

Your team makes the world go round. You need people with different skillsets to serve as the different parts of the whole that make up your business. You need designers. Developers. Lawyers. Accountants. Project managers. And more.

And the best way to guarantee your team works together like AFC Richmond is to be a team player yourself. Know when to step back and let someone else lead. Identify how each player can best contribute and put them in the position to do so. Seek input from your best minds. Build together.

7. Have Each Other’s Backs

At the beginning of every improv show, what you don’t see backstage is that everyone goes around to everyone else and taps their back and says “Got your back.” Can you imagine if we did this in our daily lives!? It’s so powerful.

Building off of the previous improv principle, think of building your business like a trust fall, which some improv troops use as a trust-building exercise. You’re going to have to take risks to build your business. You’re going to face challenges. And when I say better together, it definitely applies here. And guess what? We’re all human. And WE ALL want SOMEONE TO HAVE OUR BACK.

You’re a team. Have each other’s backs when someone opens their mouth. When they get vulnerable and share their ideas. Doing so also creates a psychologically safe space which is essential to creating a positive team culture.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to allow an adversarial, us-versus-them culture to develop in your business. You are much more likely to reach your goals when your team faces challenges together.


Build Your Business Better

When you’re in the weeds of building your business, it can be challenging to zoom out and see the forest from the trees. And improv principles can be an incredibly useful tool for building your business in a way that’s sustainable, and that embeds a natural zoom-out effect. But you don’t have to stop there; small business coaching that utilizes improv principles can help you develop yourself and your business in a more structured, intentional way. Interested? Let’s talk! Click the link to book a FREE Discovery Call.