One thing I have found to be true over almost 30 years of doing improv comedy is that audiences will frequently throw out suggestions that are...challenging. Challenging because:
- They may be inappropriate (like when someone yelled out “strip clubbing” when I asked for a “hobby” at a company event).
- They may be complicated (like when I used the suggestion of “hairy sailing” as the topic of a motivational speech)
- They may be unfamiliar (like way back when someone suggested “Guy Fawkes Day” as a holiday when none of the performers knew what that was)
- Or for any one of a number of reasons, the suggestion might just seem hard to the improviser.
When this happens, it’s natural for the improviser to say to themselves, “How Can I Do That?”
That is a fine response, but the meaning of that response varies based on which word the improviser emphasizes. And that difference is the difference between people who excel at improv from those who struggle, on stage or off.
Here are three ways to ask, “how can I do that?”:
- How can I do that? (Emphasis on “I”) - I? Me? Maybe it could be done, but not by me!
- How can I do that? (Emphasis on “that”) - That idea is too hard/out-there/weird to even consider.
- How can I do that? (Emphasis on “how”) - That idea can be done, by me, and I just need to figure out how.
Do you see how the same phrase can have different meaning based on the words we focus on? The first two mindsets are defeating and self-limiting. The third is empowering and opens up creativity.
And astute readers will also note that the difference between these responses is the difference between saying “Yes, And” and “yes, but” to a challenge…
When trying to improvise, adapt, or innovate in the “real world” (reacting to change, pursuing a challenging goal, etc.) you may ask yourself the same question. Pay attention to what word you are emphasizing, and, if it serves you, switch the focus to the “how” and see if that helps open up your creativity and tackling bigger challenges.