In This Time of Pandemic, Maybe Saying "Yes" to Improvisation is EXACTLY What You Need.

Updated: May 25

“Three characteristics of resilient people:

Ability and willingness to accept reality;

The propensity to make meaning out of terrible times;

An uncanny ability to improvise"

--Harvard Business Review


Last summer I was playing with my great nephew in his family pool. He in a large inflatable boat, me pushing him back and forth. He was not quite two and a half. Every time I or someone else would ask him a question his answer was “No, I don’t want to do that.”


(Did I mention he was two?)


His father and other family members and I would simply reply, “Then don’t.”


Granted these were simple things like dunking his head, paddling on his own, getting in and out of the pool, eating food. Things a two-year-old would do under supervision on a nice summer day.


In improv we call this “an offer.” But he was too young to understand the value of saying yes.


“Say YES When it Seems Crazy”


This is a quote on a wooden block on my desk. It reminds me that opportunities in life and business open when the answer to an offer is “yes.” It is also my reminder that the number one principle of improv is always respond with “Yes and…”


"No, what will people think of me if I do that?"


I cannot tell you how many times I have asked people to attend my free improv class and I know this is what they are thinking. Somehow, they think I am trying to make them funny. Or perform. In most cases – that’s not possible. And trust me when I tell you – I am not looking to turn everyone into comedians, professional improvisers and actors. We have enough of them. And they are all out of work. A fact that is mostly true even when there isn’t a pandemic.


I use improv as a tool to aid people in the following list of skills. Could you benefit from any of these?


  • Learn to be comfortable when you don’t know what is coming next

  • Sharpen problem solving

  • Learn to think on your feet

  • Live in the moment to manage stress

  • Improve team work

  • Overcome social shyness

  • Improve listening

  • Make new friends

  • Rediscover a sense of play

  • Learn to embrace failure

  • Discover yes, and...

  • Explore story ideas & hone storytelling craft

  • Develop more and lead with more empathy

  • Utilize and recognize body language

  • Improve public speaking

  • Grow as person

  • Have fun

Furthermore, those in business who understand the concept of saying “yes” to the offers that come their way, are doing better in this time of social distancing and sheltering-in-place.


Why? Because they accepted the reality of what is a tragic “offer” that is a global pandemic, and pivoted. They sent their employees home where they could work safely, bought cameras and subscriptions to video conferencing. They figured out how to market themselves differently. They set up tables and plastic screens in front of counters to protect their customers and their patrons. They switched to delivery or curbside pickup, or set up a window at their front door where there wasn’t one in order to take orders as customers come to the door.


In other words, they improvised!


Now I understand that for some the above “yes” has not been possible. But for those for whom it is, they accepted the horrible, crappy offer in front of them - stay in business and serve customers in the time of Covid - and said “Yes, and I will make this change this way...” In some cases, I will risk my health do so.


And we are all grateful.


As I have said before in my blog, I have been designing adult learning for major corporations and a major university for a few decades. Improv is the quickest tool I have ever found to change behavior and enhance soft skills, including leadership skills. The more you do it, the better you get at those things.


Furthermore, when you utilize the most fundamental principle of improv – “Yes and…” the offers that come your way make you flexible, adaptable and nimble. You are better prepared to spot opportunities, to let go of what isn't working, and let go of control.

And let’s face it in our current global situation – there is not a lot you can control aside from staying at home.


So here is your offer. Come join us for a virtual improv class. It is free. It is over your “lunch” break – if you are working. It will break up your day. And it is DAMN fun!


Now that my great nephew is all of three years old, he is already better at saying yes.


How about you?