Want to Be More Innovative? Think Like a Stand-Up Comic

Last Updated Mar 11, 2010 6:38 AM EST

Learn stand-up comedy to be more innovative?Quick, what profession is about as far as you can get from a charismatic and spontaneous stand-up comedian? If you said something deliberative and thoughtful such as an engineer, your answer is understandable, but entirely off-base if an article on a new program in design thinking for engineers at Dartmouth University is to be believed.
The article by Elizabeth Kelsey reports on professor Peter Robbie's design thinking class in Thayer School's MacLean Engineering Sciences Center in which students use stand-up to boost their creativity. How can cracking jokes in front of a crowd improve the innovative powers of the deskbound? Professor Robbie explains:
I've always thought that the quickest and smartest folks at the brainstorming phase of design have been those who do standup and improv. They never say no. They never miss a beat. Improv requires players to accept what they are given, build on the ideas of others, and encourage wild ideas.

Everyone thinks that they know how to brainstorm, but in fact, brainstorming is usually plagued by problems like self-censoring, competitiveness, and ridicule.... Improv is a great way for students to learn to defer judgment.

Also, like good managers and improv comics, "good designers are astute observers of human behavior." So, if you're looking to boost brainstorming in your office and improve you team's creativity, maybe stand-up lessons would be an unusual but effective form of training.

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(Stand-up image by TheeErin, CC 2.0)
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