Originally posted May 21, 2012 on Sfu.ca/olc
I love Tina Fey. She’s hilarious, smart, and she doesn’t just play in what is traditionally a man’s game, she beats them at it. Plus one of my best friends has claimed Liz Lemon as her TV soul mate, because they are essentially the same person. Sure, Liz is 40-ish and runs a somewhat horrible late night TV show, and my friend is 21 and does not, but she does have better hair flashbacks, so it evens out.
Now, returning to the subject at hand, Tina Fey is an awesome person, and so is her book, Bossypants. This is why I’ve decided to let Ms. Fey guest post on my marketing blog, and help relate ‘The Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life’ contained in her book to the rules for a successful co-op term.
Rule One: Always Say Yes
Improv scenes require all involved to be willing to say “Yes” and agree with whatever their scene partner just said. If one person holds up a stick and declares it King Arthur’s sword, it’s no fun if you scoff and call it a stupid stick. Your scene will be over before it begins.
Now, I should point out, that no, this does not mean you should say “Yes” to everything in life. If someone comes up to you on the street and tries to convince you that they are King Arthur you really shouldn’t go along with that. On the job, you shouldn’t say “Yes” to everything; if something makes you uncomfortable, you shouldn’t follow along just to be a team player. The point here is to at least start from an open-minded place. Respect where the other person is coming from, and give their idea proper consideration. If there are no immediate objections than try saying “Yes” and see what can happen.
Rule Two: Yes, And…
For an improv scene to succeed everyone needs to contribute. If one person is always the one pushing a scene forward, while the other contributes nothing more than mono-syllable answers then it doesn’t make for a very entertaining scene.
When it comes to your job, this rule means that you shouldn’t be afraid to contribute. Don’t assume that just because you’re new it means that your ideas are bad, or aren’t worth voicing. You are there for a reason, and your contributions are worthwhile. This doesn’t mean that the middle of a company-wide staff meeting is the forum to discuss your ideas to revolutionize the company, but it does mean that if you think the current stat-tracking system you’re using is inefficient that you shouldn’t be afraid to say so.
Rule Three: Make Statements
If you’ve ever done improv, then you know that if one person is always asking questions and creating obstacles while expecting you to solve them, that it creates far too much pressure, and isn’t much fun for either of you.
What this really means is don’t ask questions and bring up obstacles all the time. Yes, asking questions is important, especially when you’re in a new situation, and yes, being able to spot potential road blocks to a project is an essential skill, but someone needs to find solutions to these problems. Instead of shooting down an outdoor event while asking what to do if it rains, offer to look into tent rentals and outdoor heaters. People who put up endless roadblocks stop being invited out to lunch. People who solve problems get to put lunch on the company tab.
Rule Four: There Are No Mistakes
If you forget that your character was paralyzed in a hippo fighting accident and leap up mid-scene, don’t go back, go forward. This mis-step could be a huge mistake, and you could ruin the scene, or you could declare that you’ve been faking an injury for the insurance money, and make the scene even better.
You will make a mistake at work. It’s just a fact, accept it now, and you’ll be better prepared to deal with it when it happens. When this inevitable mistake is found out, you just need to accept responsibility, apologize if necessary, work on finding a way to fix it, figure out how it happened and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again, and finally find a way to move forward from there. Mistakes can be forgiven and forgotten about, as long as you take the correct actions in the aftermath.
Since starting my Co-op term in January I can think of times when I’ve followed this advice, and I can certainly find examples of times when I didn’t. I am fairly confident when I say that this applies to pretty much everyone, nevertheless, I think Tina Fey is on to something here.
Looking for more to read? Make sure you check out the rest of my Diary of a Marketing Co-op series, or go read Bossypants for yourself. If you want to share in my Tina Fey love, leave a comment, or reach out to me on Twitter @lizzmoffat or @SFU_OLC.