I was watching Tina Fey the other night and she was talking about the two main rules of improvisation on stage.
The first is that if there are two of you on stage, you have to agree. In other words, if I say I am holding an imaginary apple, you don’t say no you’re not. You have to agree.
The second rule is yes and. This means that you build on what has been said or created to move the scene forward. For example, I say I am holding an apple. And you say yes and I will inject it with poison to kill the king. Yes and.
Two simple rules to create something out of nothing. This is how great comics create.
Strangely, it is also how children create. I have been watching mine over the holidays. One of them will say, hey we are Batman and Robin. The other kid says yes and I have an invisible suit with special powers.
With both of these examples there is flow. There is support. And there is no concept of right and wrong. There is no mistake. As Tina Fey said in the interview, you can’t really have mistakes in improv.
It would seem creativity whether you are a child or a genius comic is about flow. It is about outrageous possibilities and unlimited potential.
Now, compare that with the process of many creative teams and ad agencies in general.
I have watched many creative teams in my career. The great ones have two qualities. One is an almost telepathic ability to finish each other’s sentences. It’s what I call bounce. It is a combination of both rules of improv. You support the other guy by going with his idea and then you build on it. The second quality is a massive amount of curiosity mixed with fearlesness. What you get is the perfect blend of comedic timing and childlike wonder. Cynicism and naiviety perfectly balanced.
The bad teams are the exact opposite. Ego. My ideas are always the best. Fear. They cannot open up to the flow of collaboration. Endless hours debating how the process of having ideas should work rather than just having them. And always this obsession of right and wrong becomes very important. These are all toxic layers that will kill an idea long before it is born.
However, it is not just teams that are guilty of not allowing this process to unfold.
Agencies and clients often do not understand the value of bounce. In essence, if creativity was a tennis match, there are many in our business who don’t want the game, they just want the result. And here lies the problem.
When people say they want out of the box thinking or innovation this is not actually what they want. What they want is the result of creativity without the hassle of creativity itself.
We are in a world that is obsessed with the result. The world now values answers far more than how you get to them.
This is important because when you stop caring about the process you normally get to answers you have seen before. You begin to watch the same Wimbledon final every year but pretend it’s a different game.
For creatives to reach and create the result we cannot care about the result as much as we care about the game. This is one of the great misunderstandings about how creatives work.
A punchline is nothing without a joke. The score means very little without the game before it. And a dance is not an answer but it can get your feet to go somewhere new.
You can play the same game over and over. But don’t expect the same results.
Slowly, they will get worse.
So, be brave my friends. Always bounce.