It’s hard to describe where the inspiration for an idea comes from. Deep down inside, there’s a special, undeniable feeling that’s triggered when that little light bulb goes off in your head. Unfortunately, getting to that point is often easier said than done.
While it’s impossible to plan for inspiration, it’s entirely in our control to create a work environment where open idea generation thrives. One way to foster this accepting atmosphere is through improvisational exercises. Here are two activities from the world of improv comedy that might help your team find that elusive next best idea:
This exercise embraces the golden rule of improvisation, “Yes, and.” Simply put, “Yes, and,” is a mindset utilized by improv performers that sets the expectation of complete agreement with whatever idea may be presented on stage.
For this exercise, have the members of your team gather in a circle. One person will begin by turning to the person on their right and making a declarative statement. The next person will reply, “Yes, and,” then continue by adding another phrase or detail to the last idea. Then, that person passes it onto their right and the pattern continues, snaking around the circle until you find an end as a group.
Player 1: “It has been really hot out lately.”
Player 2: “Yes, and my dog sweats all the time.”
Player 3: “Yes, and you need to start buying him doggy deodorant”
This exercise can get pretty silly, but that’s the point! The essence of brainstorming is free flowing idea generation presented without judgement. By agreeing (“yes”) to ideas initially, then adding to them (“and…”) ideas are supported and expanded, rather than held back by an immediate chorus of criticism.
It’s time to mind meld! “Great Minds” is another circle-based group game that aims to form connections within a group based on the way we think. This time, two participants standing next to each other will begin. Both participants will maintain eye-contact and, after counting down from three, each say the first word that comes to their minds. Both players will be speaking at the same time. With this initial pair, it is common for the words to be completely different.
Players 1 & 2: “3…2…1!”
(Simultaneously) Player 1: “Dog!” Player 2: “Chubby!”
After this initial exchange, each upcoming pair in the circle will then try to “mind meld” and find the logical word between the two words just said. However, once a word is said once, it cannot be repeated. Using our example above, the next two players would then make eye contact, countdown and try to say the next logical word at the same time:
Players 2 & 3: “3…2…1!”
(Simultaneously) Player 2: “Husky!” Player 3: “Husky!”
In truth, it may take some time for a pair to land on an exact word match, but that’s half of the fun! This exercise is a great way for teammates to see the way each other’s minds work; given the same two words, it is amazing to see the variety of answers participants can come up with. Having insight into your team’s thought processes can help make idea generation easier though understanding.
Great ideas are hard to come by, but if your team can become great at accepting ideas, you might just find that idea generation isn’t just about banging your head against the wall; it’s about learning the way your team thinks and embracing the spontaneity of inspiration.