/ #Improvisation #training 

Training: Why don't I have more ideas?

In front of this computer since hours, I’m looking for how to start this article. How the find the idea that will make it meaningful. I turn the music on and the distraction off and begin to look around me to think “outside the box”. Two hours ago I planned to write this article about the first improvisation training I did with my team. I’ve decided to train us on behavior and creativity topics. This training is about what I’m struggling with right now :

How can I have more ideas?

At this point, you must ask how someone with the same problems will have any help. First, because building the story at the moment is what I work on in theater improvisation. Next, because thanks to improvisation, I know that this first feeling is normal and can happen, you can’t be a full time creative/productive genius, there is not such a thing like thinking outside the box.

I regularly use applied improv to train my team on behavioral and creativity topics. You can find all the training here if you are looking for resources.


When I present this kind of training to non-improvisers, I first precise what is the topic and the objective to it. This training aims to: Feel and understand why we block ideas and Train to act on it, to be more spontaneous.

In my opinion, the first step in being more spontaneous is to be more aware of all our behavior blocking ideas. We block our ideas; we block the ideas of others. This training will give participants some insights into how we do that.

This training lasted 2H with a group of 5 people.

Here are the different moments of the training :

  • Before: A form to have my team start thinking of the topic
  • Introduction : A brief presentation of the training and the objective
  • Warm-up: As in sport we need to warm-up our bodies and minds
  • Exercises: Theater use games to explore topics, these games are good to work on a particular subject.
  • Scenework: Using what we learned during the games, we practice in some short scenes.
  • What’s next: At the end we decide what to apply in our work

The most critical part of exercises and scene work are the debrief. Contrary to usual learning, in improv and when you learn by yourself about your behavior. It’s by discussing what just happened on stage that we can be more aware of our natural reactions.

Some first questions

One week before the start of the training, I sent every participant 4 questions :

  • What is spontaneity for you?
  • How does your work connect with spontaneity?
  • Why aren’t we spontaneous?
  • When is the last time you didn’t share one of your ideas with your team? What did you feel? Why didn’t you share it?

These questions have a double objective. First, they will help you to adapt the rest of the training to the people coming. But most importantly, they help to make the people coming start thinking of the topic. So don’t expect to have everyone’s answer, it’s a cold warm-up.


Each time I had to answer these questions or ask them, the answers that came were similar. Yours will, of course, have some differences showing the culture of your particular group. Here are some typical answers.

What is spontaneity?

Spontaneity is as very positive in our mind. We link it with honesty, transparency, authenticity, emotion, etc. These are all fundamental topics in our daily life that as unsurprisingly hidden in the business world because they would reveal vulnerability.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly

How spontaneity is linked with work?

But if you ask your people what spontaneity can bring to their work, they directly can see the link with innovation. It’s a way to react faster and better, to find new ideas and to use the different point of views.

Why aren’t we spontaneous?

Some reasons for preventing spontaneity are evident in our mind :

  • we are polite
  • _we judge ourselves _: it’s too late, it’s not original enough
  • _we are scared _: we don’t want to look stupid, we don’t want to say something wrong, we don’t want to be juged

All these answers point the same elements, we don’t share ideas as a protective behavior against others.

Presentation of the training

I try to make the introduction on the topic short, but it’s important to be clear on what we will work and how will be done the work.

As an internal member of the team, I first state the most important: we are working on being a better group, on improving our behavior together. So there is no one, even me as the trainer, who is better.

When you work on improving a group, it makes no sense that one person is better than the others.

Next, I remind them that human behaviors can be a tricky topic as it’s connected to how, as people, we act and react with other people. So, even trying to do my best to make this training useful and safe, I’ll make mistakes.

I play low status, and I’ll explain that if the students fail, they’re to blame me. Then they laugh, and relax, and I explain that really it’s obvious that they should blame me, since I’m supposed to be the expert; and if I give them the wrong material, they’ll fail; and if I give them the right material, then they’ll succeed. Keith Johnstone

Finally, I state back the topic: today the work is on spontaneity. And I tell them that they will have notes and resources about this training (this article) available after the training.

Warm-ups / 15 min

Warm-up exercises are usually safe games where the participants can warm their body and escape their mind from their work or worries to be fully present on the training.

Zip, Zap, Zop

source: probably the most widely used warm-up game.

In a circle, participants pass a Zip! noise to each other. One player can decide to say Zap! to change the direction of the sound or to say Zop! to skip the next player.

This game is perfect to make every member of the group present.

More details on the process, the debrief... >>

Mind meld

source: Discovered with the Barcelona Improv Group.

In a group, a first player says 1 when he thinks of a word. Then when a second player thinks he knows the word of the first player, he says 2. Finally, together they say 1,2,3 and their world. If they have the same word, it’s a Mind Meld!

An excellent warmup to put a group in the same energy.

More details on the process, the debrief... >>

Exercises / 30 min

When the energy is there, I start the training with two games on our topic.

Giving presents

source: Viola Spolin, Keith Johnstone

Player A offers an imaginary present to player B. Player B defines what is the gift and show his happiness on what he has just been offered! The pair continues the same action back and forth.

This game is straightforward and perfect to show how hard it can be to define what should be the most natural thing: a present we would like.

More details on the process, the debrief... >>

This exercice is a perfect way to feel all the block we can put when we try to generate ideas. In this game, the only rule about the ideas to produce is to make you happy. An excellent gift can be a postcard, a glass of beer or a good book but we prefer to find good reasons to avoid these obvious ideas.

I learned that the first idea was unsatisfactory because it was (1) psychotic; (2) obscene; (3) unoriginal. The truth is that the best ideas are often psychotic, obscene and unoriginal. Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre

The best way to let these ideas come is to defer the jugement. For example by being enthusiast even before deciding what the gift is.

No / Yes but / Yes / Yes and

source: Discovered with Raymond van Driel.

By pairs. Player A tells a story to player B. Player B can only answer No. Then player B can only respond Yes, But…, then Yes and finally Yes, and.

A good exercise to feel how we are affected by others’ reaction to our ideas.

More details on the process, the debrief... >>

With this second exercise, players can experience that idea block can also come from our reactions. We usually think that accepting ideas (Yes) is positive enough but to permit to a new idea to exist, we need to accept (Yes) and to build on it (Yes, and).

Scenework /30 min

One sentence at a time

source: Discovered with Ian Parizot

Two players do a scene. They must say one sentence at a time: Player A starts with a sentence, Player B answer with another sentence, and so on.

A good setup to do a scene where we concentrate on the listening between players.

More details on the process, the debrief... >>

This scene work is a way to see all that we discussed during the exercises in a concrete example. It’s the occasion to illustrate some reflex that we have all, and that can prevent ideas to develop.

We discuss each scene with the group : - What is the reaction of the player we observed? - How did that affect the story? Was it a pleasant story? - What is the link with your work?

During these scenes, the players will show some reflexes they have on their way to communicate. One of the objectives of this training is to help each one of us to be aware of these mechanisms and the ones of others.

What’s next! / 30min

The end of the training consist of a discussion on what we can get of these two hours :

  • What do we all remember of this work?
  • What did we learn?
  • What is the link with our work?
  • What will you change in your behavior?

Finally, to close this training, the group decide together what they will do in the next weeks as a conclusion of this training. Some examples :

  • Saying Yes, and… at least once a day
  • Make a noise when they hear a Yes, but…


Here are some resources to go further on the topic of idea generation and creativity.


Baptiste Coulange

CTO at @cornis_SAS / socially acceptable maths nerd of @podcastscience / always improvising