Q&A: When Improv is Not the Answer

Last week, I had the privilege of presenting Collaborative Improv at Pixel Up in Cape Town, South Africa. More on the conference in a later post. One question an attendee asked was:

How can I use improv to help align a business/client in determining the goals and vision?

Simple answer: Improv is not the answer. At least not an improv activity. An improv mindset on the other hand, will get you there.

What did they need?

Probing into the person’s question, it turned out their stakeholders lacked a clear, shared understanding of the product’s missions and goals. Instead of an improv exercise, I offered a Vision Statement exercise, where individuals create their statement and then refine it as a team.

The Exercise

Vision statement exercises are quite simple. Start with the following Mad-Libs statement:


[Product or Tool] is the only ______ (industry/business)

That does _____ (what does it do)

For ___ (who is the target audience)

So they can ____ (what is the audience’s goals/success metrics)


Using Collaborative Improv as an example, we might say:

Collaborative Improv is the only desktop guide on improv

That provides actionable steps and improv exercises

For product designers in a digital space

So they can supercharge their collaboration and design through new techniques, better empathy, and more efficient conversations.


Ask each participant to spend 5-minutes crafting their own, individual Vision Statement. Then, with post-it notes, transcribe the key elements of each contribution onto a shared whiteboard.

After collecting everyone’s individual thoughts, start to discuss similarities and differences, coming up with one, shared Vision Statement. Note, these usually turn into run on sentences. They are for internal use so proper grammar is less a concern than shared understanding.

Bringing In Improv

Crafting a Vision Statement is not an improv exercise. It leverages an improvisational mindset and builds on improv’s guidelines. The active listening, the support, the raising the stakes and building on one another are all lenses adopted from improv.

I suggested a brief round of Yes-And, between the individual authoring and group share, in order to get participants comfortable with building on ideas. This brief, 5-minute exercise followed by a more traditional conversation can pair well to crafting an engaging and successful exercise.

Improv is Part of the Answer

The original question was “what improv games can help with this challenge”. I reframed the solution to think “what improv lenses can help within our existing tools”. I urge you to think of improv not as the solution or tool, but the mechanism that superpowers what we already do, and how we already engage with one another.

I want to hear from you

What questions about improvisation do you have? Respond to the original tweet, or comment below!

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