I love Tina Fey. There is something about her clever style of humour, her quirkiness, and honesty that make me want to be the woman’s friend. Not to mention her amazing impersonation of Sarah Palin or the gem of a show she created in 30 Rock (some Jack Donaghy highlights here).
But one of my favourite contributions that Fey has given the world boils down to two simple pages from her book “Bossypants”, in what she calls “Tina Fey’s Rules of Improvisation that will Change your Life”. She starts with the idea of open-mindedness:
The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you’re improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we’re improvising and I say, “Freeze, I have a gun,” and you say, “That’s not a gun. It’s your finger. You’re pointing your finger at me,” our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, “Freeze, I have a gun!” and you say, “The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!” then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.
Her second rule speaks to the idea of actually contributing. That you DO have something valuable to add, and you have a responsibility to do so:
The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say, “Yeah…” we’re kind of at a standstill. But if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “What did you expect? We’re in hell.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “Yes, this can’t be good for the wax figures.” Or if I say, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you say, “I told you we shouldn’t have crawled into this dog’s mouth,” now we’re getting somewhere.
Next, she addresses the importance of making clear and helpful statements, so that you aren't "That person" at work or in life:
The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying “Don’t ask questions all the time.” If we’re in a scene and I say, “Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What’s in that box?” I’m putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.
Finally, she sums up her rules with this reminder about seeing options as opportunities rather than potential mistakes:
THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up being a police hamster who’s been put on “hamster wheel” duty because I’m “too much of a loose cannon” in the field. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.
I love these reminders to start from an open-minded place, to contribute, to make solid statements, and to pursue options as opportunities rather than fear mistakes.
As enjoyable as Bossypants was to read, it also offers practical tips for lifelong learning and leadership, some directed at women, but applicable to every adult who cares to be a more effective leader and communicator. Maybe we all could benefit from a little bit of actual Improv!
A passionate educator.. on a quest for a schooling model to love!