Adaptability Mindset Lessons from improv comedy to change your life and leadership

Adaptability Mindset

Adaptability Mindset Through Improv Comedy


Adaptability Mindset is a growth mindset. Sure, risk-taking can be scary. It doesn’t have to be. And we need risk-taking for creativity and innovation and for personal as well as professional growth.

How can we work our muscles even when it feels big?

A few months ago I emceed a conference for several days. I had a ball. And…I have vertigo. I have had it all my life. I manage it. I adapt. I was hosting a conference in a ballroom of a large hotel in SF; I was also greeting guests on the 39th floor restaurant the night before.

There I was next to big windows and a beautiful skyline. And my heart was beating FAST. It was not my first vertigo rodeo.

What did I do? I focused on several things:

  1. Laughing with guests who made me feel connected and frankly safe.
  2. I ‘yes and-ed’ the opportunity as a way to push my comfort zone.

I am NOT suggesting this will cure your vertigo. Nope.

However, it is important to recognize that we can do things that push us out of our comfort zone to grow even in small ways AND many of these tools come from improv comedy.

Adaptability Mindset

An improv mindset is a growth mindset. You might even hear it as a “Yes and” mindset. It’s the ability to navigate whatever is thrown at us with confidence by accepting what comes our way and rolling with and adding on. Everyone is already an improviser because you adapt every day and did during a pandemic. While you may not think of yourself this way; you are.

According to LinkedIn’s 2024 analysis of 1 billion global users (Feb), the hottest skill right now is adaptability. That’s the power of an improv mindset and skillset. And most of us sadly never learn this invaluable skill in a classroom.

Also, we can learn it, though.(See my notes below for my LinkedIn Learning course on Adaptive Leadership Through Improv).

Another thing to remember: It’s so much more than being funny. Adaptability means that bravery, laughter and humor flourish because we lean into change with less fear and more confidence. These are precursors to big, bold innovation.


Six improv adaptability mindset lessons (more in my book, Stop Boring Me!)

Source: Kathy Klotz-Guest

1. Play the Scene (Hand) You Are In

You don’t choose the scene or what happens to you; yet you can choose your response. This requires deep listening. Play the hand you are dealt the best way possible

2. Take Risks and Celebrate Mistakes. Mistakes are Gifts. Innovation is experimentation. Risk is a muscle; when you exercise, it grows. View mistakes as learning vs. failure. We don’t have to be perfect! Plus, perfect is not funny. Want to be funnier? Be human, get out of your head, embrace imperfection and your truth.

3. “Yes, and” to Co-Create Powerfully (this is everything when it comes to innovation and storytelling)

“Yes, and…” is how we build scenes and move forward. 1) Listen for an offer; 2) accept and say yes; 3) add on to what someone says (The AND) to move forward.. That’s how we stay in collaboration with others vs. a ‘yes but’ mentality which kills ideas. We don’t have to DO those ideas. We are SIMPLY exploring. For example, if your on-stage partner calls you “Mom,” you are a mom, and you build onto the reality your partner creates. Don’t drop your stuff; Integrate. In one scene, I was a werewolf and I was called ‘mom,’ so I combined it into a super idea: a werewolf mom. Integrating ideas expands creativity! In cultures filled with people who “yes, but” ( a “no”), little creativity happens. “Yes, but” someone and watch the reaction.


Respond with Feeling, Focus on Partners, Let Go


4. Make Your Partner Look AMAZING

When in life and improv, you get offers, asks, invites, etc. When we make people look amazing without judgment, we build relationships, trust and better ideas because we make it safer to try things.

5. Listen to Respond Honestly

Clearing your head rather than thinking about what you’ll say next is hard. Yet, being present in the moment allows you to react spontaneously to what is in front of you. When we choose to respond honestly, people feel heard. Ex: “I don’t know what to say. That’s a first for me. That must have been hard for you.” Choosing honest emotions allows us to show up as we are. And it brings us closer to what’s naturally funny because we are being human vs. trying too hard.

6. Prepare and Let Go

When the scene (at work or life) naturally coalesces around someone else’s idea, rally around it instead of ‘driving’ the scene your way. Every day unforeseen stuff – both good and bad – happens. Preparing and letting go as needed grows our resilience and adaptability.

Teams: Cultivate Trust, Connection, Courage and Humor is Adaptability Mindset Fuel

People and teams with an improv (growth) mindset…

  • Listen to each other and be present in the moment (where natural humor often lives)
  • Accept the reality of the moment, add on to each other’s ideas: ‘Yes and’ vs. ‘Yes but’ which kills creativity (you don’t have to do the idea; just explore)
  • Make each other look good (no judging; have each other’s backs)
  • Celebrate mistakes as learning and make it safe to take risks
  • Prepare and let go as needed
  • Accept and celebrate your imperfection – when you do, you are more connected to audiences and yourself because you are approachable, relatable and funnier. You’ll also make it safer for others to do the same.
  • Unlock more creativity, storytelling and speaking that gets results

That’s how you grow and have others’ backs. Plus, this way, people can’t cough on you.

Check out my course from Madecraft on LinkedIn Learning: leading in the moment.

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