From The Second City to Saturday Night Live, improv is the art of getting on stage with almost nothing, and building a comedic act on the fly. While improv is tied closely to theater and comedy, the skills developed through practicing improv can be incredibly valuable for innovation leaders.


Tina Fey is the hilarious former cast member of the popular TV show “Saturday Night Live,” and an award-winning author and actress. She’s also an outspoken advocate for the benefits of improv beyond the stage.

“I think the biggest thing that I took from improv into my career is the idea of saying “yes” and being open and accepting what the other person is giving you, and not being afraid to fail,” Fey said. “Improv taught me that it’s okay to fail and it’s okay to look silly, because the only way to get better is to just keep doing it.” 

Fey also credits her experience in improv with helping her broader professional skills. She says that improv taught her how to think on her feet and react to new situations quickly, which has been essential in her career as a comedian and writer.


Our founder, Matt Phillips, spent three years training and performing at The Second City. In the early days of improv training, he learned that actors are taught to accept any idea handed to them, whether it’s the last sentence or an action of another actor, and build on it. This is the core idea behind the famed “yes, and…” This bias toward accepting and building is key to successful improv, as it propels the impromptu scenes forward.

Another core principle of improv is being “in the moment” and reacting to what’s happening in real-time. This requires quick thinking, flexibility, and the ability to adapt to new situations quickly. These skills are highly valued in the workplace, as they enable individuals to think on their feet and respond to changing circumstances, which can be particularly important in fast-paced industries or high-pressure situations.

Collaboration is inseparable from improv. On stage, performers work together to create a scene, without knowing what the other person is going to do next. This requires a strong ability to listen, communicate, and work as a team, all of which are essential skills in any workplace. Improv can help develop these skills, enabling them to be more effective communicators.


More broadly, improv can also help build confidence. Improv involves taking risks (granted, not multi-million dollar business risks) and stepping outside of your comfort zone, which can be challenging at first. However, as participants become more comfortable, they often find that they become more confident and comfortable in other areas of their lives as well. This can be particularly valuable in the workplace, where confidence and positive attitude are often essential for success.

Improv also teaches problem-solving skills. In improv, performers must be creative and come up with solutions on the fly, which can help individuals develop their ability to think creatively and find creative solutions to problems. This is particularly valuable in the workplace, where individuals are often faced with complex problems and challenges that require creative thinking to solve.

And…improv just might build your ability to be funny. Or not, honestly. You might be horrifically unfunny. Just keeping it real here. Hehe. But even then, improv is likely to boost your sense of humor and improve your ability to connect with others. Improv can help you reframe work situations so that you can see the humor in them. This can help you build better relationships with their colleagues, making them stronger team players.

The skills developed through improv can be incredibly valuable at work. (Matt credits it with helping him become a better entrepreneur.) Whether you are looking to improve your ability to think on your feet, collaborate effectively with others, or simply build your confidence and sense of humor, improv is a valuable tool that can help you achieve your career goals.


If you are interested in learning more about how improv can benefit your career, consider taking an improv class or workshop. You may be surprised by just how much you can learn and how much your career, team and organization can benefit from this unique and dynamic art form.

Phillips & Co. is a leading innovation consulting firm.

(And we offer workshops on the intersection of improv and innovation strategy.)

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