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CMO Advisory & Coaching

Rebuilding a Trusting, Creative Culture with Improv Rules

Watching a long-form improv show, you’ll witness a troupe of about eight people walk on stage to perform a half-hour show equipped with absolutely nothing. They’ll ask for a single suggestion from the audience and will receive a ridiculous word like “crop duster.” And somehow, like magic, they’ll proceed to build a brilliant, hysterical three-act, nine-screen show that will knock your socks off.    

The critical element required for this team to accomplish this unbelievable feat is trust. And the trust is built by following a handful of simple principles.  

Bringing these rules into our corporate teams would ignite creativity, increase our level of innovation by an order of magnitude, and equip organizations to transform the world for the better. Employees would discover so much more meaning and joy in their work. The rules are simple:

      1. Support your partner. When you go out on stage with somebody else, your entire intention needs to be about making your partner look good. Shifting your focus from worrying about your own performance frees you from anxiety, which catapults you into a creative state of mind.
      2. There are no mistakes, only gifts. I sunk into a depression after a YouTube campaign I launched received some negative press. A fortnight later I found myself on the ghost tour at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO, where Stephen King rewrote “The Shining” after his first draft was haunted by horrific critiques. It reminded me that mistakes are a necessary part of the creative process, and it pulled me out of the hole. Later that year, our team produced a mini-documentary for Cisco that became a Webby Award Honoree.
      3. Follow the fear. Del Close, the founder of the long-form improv format “The Harold,” preached that when several ideas pop into an improviser’s mind while performing, one of the options will scare the heck out of her. And she has an obligation to chase the idea without hesitation.


During my tenure at IBM on our Internet of Things campaign, the video stories we produced that received the most press coverage and won industry awards were always the projects that I knew would get me fired. The reason an idea frightens us is because it pushes us to explore uncharted territory.  And that’s precisely the reason it offers our best chance at brilliance.  

This is a time we need to rebuild trust within our teams. It’s a time to help them feel safe to pioneer; to be encouragers and risk takers. It’s a time to enable our teams to work together like a fresh and fearless improv troupe.

You can find Tim’s advice, along with other Leap Advisor’s solutions to today’s most pressing marketing challenges in our E-Book: The 10 Biggest CMO Challenges of 2022 and How to Conquer Them.

Tim Washer

Tim spent 20 years at IBM, Cisco and Accenture, mostly feigning interest on conference calls. Moonlighting as a comedy writer/actor on SNL, Conan and The Late Show equipped him to use humor to help companies capture attention, show empathy, build rapport and make a persuasive case with B2B technology audiences.

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