“These are sad drawings”, I said to my scene partner, looking down at my empty hands. Those were my closing words from last week’s improv show. I can’t remember what was going through my head at the time. What matters is how I got to that show in the first place.

When I was in primary school, I remember looking forward to improv class. It was an opportunity to be playful and silly with my mates, and a great way to forget about math and geography. As I got older and focused on my design career, I lost some of that spirited and creative energy in exchange for more strategic, calculated behaviors. A year ago, I signed up to an improv class in the hopes of rediscovering that child-like wonder. These are some things I learned in the process;

Getting uncomfortable

I make it a habit to expose myself to uncomfortable experiences and I respect people who do the same. As you can imagine, being on stage with strangers is not my idea of a comfortable situation. Improv is one of the best ways to explore and break through the discomfort in a fun and creative environment.

Embracing the YES

The yes and spirit of improv involves accepting and building on a partner’s offer or suggestion. Not only is it a technique to help develop scenes, but it's also a conceptual framework that minimizes creative resistance and promotes collaboration. Embracing the yes has encouraged the reflex of focusing on opportunities rather than constraints.

Failing gracefully

When making things up on the spot, failure is inevitable. Embracing and celebrating failures provides the freedom needed to explore crazy ideas as a team. Understanding that failure is part of the process helps me break free of the pressure often associated with performance, whether on or off the stage.

Trusting your teammates

Improv is all about creating something bigger than any one person on stage. Trust plays a big part in making that happen. When everyone feels empowered to speak up and be heard, it sets the foundation for honest and open communication.

Making bold decisions

Making clear decisions is the best way to progress a scene in improv. It let’s everyone know where someone stand so others can build off of that. I’ve always found it somewhat easy to make decisions and accept the outcome, good or bad. Improv has helped me understand the underlying power of decision and the best way to communicate those to others. That notion has empowered me to be more honest and transparent about the decisions I make.

Thinking outside the box

One of the greatest benefits of having to make things up on the spot is getting in the habit of being imaginative. Getting weird, saying absurd things or reacting in an unexpected way is what makes improv so exciting to watch, and so enjoyable to perform. It’s given me the opportunity to flex my creative muscle with purpose and intent.

Letting go of expectations

Improv is about letting go of the ego and exploring each other’s ideas, opinions and emotions. Coming into a scene with a preconceived plan won’t help much. I’ve struggled with letting go of that control in many areas of my life. By listening attentively and focusing on adding value rather than focusing on the outcome, we can create things that are much more honest and interesting.

Feeling over thinking

Logical thinking won’t get you very far in Improv. The best way to create a memorable scene is to connect with your own emotions and add value from an open and honest place. As a pragmatic man, I’ve struggled to connect with my emotional self. Improv gave me additional tools to help me identify and communicate those to others.

So many of improv’s principles and lessons can be directly applied to the way I approach my relationships at work, with my family and with new connections. It’s made me a more confident communicator, a more open-minded human and an even more creative designer.