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10/25/2010 Digital Improv

Nothing ever goes according to plan. That’s probably a good thing. One of the bigger issues around change is how people respond to unexpected or unwanted changes. When it comes to digital strategy and execution, the teams who develop and build digital campaigns need to practice and embrace improvisation as a working model.

Improvisation is the art of saying “yes” no matter what happens. Once you say “no” you’re stuck. Some one once told me that people who say “no” want safety while people who say “yes” want adventure.  As marketers our collective jobs are to not play it safe, while our competition leaps ahead. Our job is to move our clients business forward through marketing.

Improv starts in the strategy stage. We can develop the greatest strategies and have our clients completely buy into them, only to watch how the client gets a little nervous and decides they only want part of a strategy right away, while the rest can wait. Or they love the strategy, but want to play it safe, to start.

Here’s the first challenge: Keep saying “yes.” If strategy is a plan to get you to a desired goal, then you have to look upon this as if the road you’ve mapped out has flooded out, or has closed down due to construction. You still need to get to your destination and now you have more information of how your passengers want to get there. Can you change your plan quickly enough?

One of the reasons we see a push for smaller strategies rather than grand strategies is that it’s easier to improvise and learn from smaller ones. Grand strategies already have “no” built right into them.

When it comes to creative and development, improv is critical. Even the best laid plans for user interaction and programming will run up against real people. Too many times the builders stand firm by their original designs and intent, insisting that the problem is the user on the other end, not the product. Luckily, we’re seeing more and more teams using things like “agile design” or “rapid prototyping” as a way of improvising along the way. 

Here’s another way of looking at it: Improvisation is all about viewing your failures (“I don’t like it” or “it doesn’t work they way it should”) as positives that lead you in newer and better directions. The messy, circular paths we have to take in order to reach our goals oftentimes show us things we normally wouldn’t have seen before. And that makes us a lot better at doing our jobs.

Build improvisation into your digital thinking. Saying “Yes” makes everyone into the good guy and gives you a better chance of delivering what you hoped to. It’s also more fun.


Check out these graphics from the site Story Robot. It's a great resource about teaching improv.



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