Lessons from Improv: What Feeds the Creative Process?

I recently hosted a Google Hang Out with Rachel Roderman, a Creative Producer with a strong background in commercial, digital branded new media, and sketch and serial comedy. Read on or watch along below to hear Rachel’s secrets to innovation.


Jess: Welcome Rachel and thank you for sharing your creative wisdom with us. First off, tell us about your exciting current project!

Rachel: As a producer on the Upright Citizen’s Brigade digital program, we are launching their online series, which has been fantastic. We get to work with talented people and do something really unique, as UCB has previously been live sketch comedy on the stage. We’re making it digital with a web series.

Jess: What an interesting approach and challenge, bringing UCB to life in a different format. What have you learned about the creative process?

Rachel: Through UCB and other projects, I’ve learned it is critically important to collaborate and communicate. Sometimes an idea comes from a writer to the director and then has to be made into a final product. Or sometimes it’s an idea that comes from a brand or management, and needs to be produced. Free flowing communication and collaboration creates something people are really proud of. Whether you thought of the idea and see it to the end or take an idea and make it come to life, both aspects are important.

Jess: Creativity is often thought of as a solo endeavor – painting, or tinkering at late hours in a lab. You highlight a great point though: innovation comes through collaborating with others to make an idea even better and to actually bring it to life. New products in companies are developed much the same way – someone on a team has an idea (it could come from market research, or R&D, or the brand manager, or a customer), and the whole team must interact to develop, refine, and launch the idea.

So how do you stay creative?

Rachel: I use downtime for “me” time to keep my creativity going. If I’m just working and then lethargic, things get stuck. It’s important to focus on personal goals as a way to feed my future self. I write my goals down and want to look at them more often.  It’s fun to look at your goals and ask yourself “why did I start this?” “Do I want to go further?”

Jess: The balance of personal and professional growth is intertwined, I agree. They feed each other. And I can appreciate what you’re saying about motivation, your “why”, and aspiration, your dream to go further. [I believe taking time to reflect on your goals (such as through meditation or contemplation) is key to fulfillment and success. There are yoga poses and breathing techniques to help you foster creativity.]

Rachel: What I’ve been working on is fun. I want to do more, come up with more ideas, and I think it’s helpful I’ve seen the whole process. I can take into consideration potential roadblocks.

Jess: Tell me more about how you work through potential roadblocks and find creative solutions.

Rachel: A big part of it is staying focused, and following one of the rules of improv, which is “Yes, And.” In improv, you always play with what you’re given. If someone adds a twist to the sketch, you run with it. When you say “yes, and” you can move forward and create together. When you say “no”, it can shut things down. So within a project, “yes, and” keeps the idea alive.

Jess: I can see how this additive approach enables new possibilities. It feels more team-based and supportive than a hard “no”, going back to your point earlier about collaboration.

Rachel: I also think it’s important to reward yourself to stay creative and overcome potential blocks. Read a book, like those by Pema Chodran, to offer a new perspective. Converse with friends. I’ve been actually picking up the phone instead of texting or emailing. You can get a lot out of free time and rework it so it serves you. Then you realize you’re not stuck.

Jess: Great point. Much of creativity is staying fluid, and unstuck like you said. When you’re fluid you can be both collaborative and present. Which I guess is what improv is all about. It’s wonderful you get to be a part of such an interesting project!

Thank you Rachel for your insight on creativity and innovation. You can connect with Rachel on LinkedIn and see her work here on Life Support by Brinkman and UCBComedy.com, only on Vimeo.

Enjoyed this post? Read past interviews in our Creativity series on LinkedIn or our blog.  We’ll also be posting some new 15 minute Executive Sutra yoga sequences on Vimeo for focus and creativity, and launching The Creative Executive ebook this fall.