Lately I have been teaching improv workshops for professionals with and the reaction from adults has been astonishingly positive. It has me noticing more and more: the principles of improv go far beyond the theater. They are a toolset to help everyday humans embrace and make the most of a constantly changing and spontaneous world while ensuring that they contribute.

Life is not scripted – unknown problems cause us to generate novel solutions and if we aren’t open minded we risk mediocre solutions or worse: inaction. I recently learned of an old Chinese philosophy concept called wu-wei (still relevant 2000 years later) that describes a state of mind similar to that of flow, or being in the zone – except it is about being completely open to the spontaneous. It is about being so comfortable in where you are that new ideas or changing fundamentals don’t scare you – rather you incorporate them into life, observe or change them in some way, and continue on. Leaders who have strong abilities in wu-wei in turn give off what is called “de” (pronounced “duh”), a type of confidence that inspires others to follow.

Improv is a set of tools to help you understand wu-wei and the art of embracing the spontaneous. To help you notice and accept the offers of the world and to feel empowered to change them, if only a little bit. Indeed everything that exists came to be in just this way, by small changes over time.

One of my favorite parts of improv are shared control activities where two people are jointly responsible for creating something (a simple example is to say a run on sentence one word at a time with someone else). By sticking to the rules – being interested; saying “yes, and!”; failing gracefully – a team can create a very compelling story or product while neither can claim credit nor lack of ownership. 

By letting go you allow more offers into your life and, counterintuitively, end up with more. To share more improv philosophies, I’ve put some together into a graphic below. Let me know in the comments if you want to see a post about any of them individually.

improv philosophy