Justin Jurek

Second City, Piper's Alley

The Second City has been churning out some of the best improvisational comedy in the world for over 50 years. Names like Belushi, Farley, Fey and Colbert honed their craft at the corner of North and Wells. Every night, they’re making people laugh.

As if that isn’t great enough, the master improvisers will also teach you the tricks of their trade. Our agency is fortunate enough to be in Chicago, so we encourage our comrades to try a class or two at The Second City Training Center, because their techniques for additive and iterative thinking have applications far outside the walls of comedy clubs.

All Chicago-style improvised theater stems from one simple idea summed up in two simple words. “Yes, and…” In a scene with two people, the first player sets up the situation. The second player accepts the situation, then builds on it. The first player accepts what the second player has added, then builds on that.

No judgement. No contradiction. No naysaying. Just build and accept. Build and accept.

Simple idea, right? Easy to do? Nope.

Why is that? Because at some point along the way, most people are taught to value their own ideas more than the thoughts of others.

Imagine listening to a standard conversation between two people. Person A makes a statement. Person B waits for A to finish, then says what he’d like to say. A waits for B to finish, then finishes her previous statement, unaffected by what B said. It’s not really a conversation. Nothing moves forward. It’s just two people waiting to talk.

What a waste of time, talent and ideas!

How could we improve the conversation? There is a better way. Yes. And…

Yes (or listen actively).

Life is a series of conversations. This is demonstrated most at at work, particularly for marketing.

Whether executing a banner ad, creating hotel keycards or multi-deminsional international campaigns, every project starts with listening. And not the kind of listening you did in high school physics class. We’re talking active listening. It’s important to really hear the client- what ideas are they bringing the to the table before you even start the project, what has already been discussed internally? If rather than thinking about the next step, and instead you work to truly understand where the person is coming, often times you glean pertinent information that can help sell your ideas later! It’s not just about building it- if you listen, they will come! (Forgive the cheesy Field of Dreams reference.)

And (or build generously).

If a great idea can come from anywhere, as the founder of our agency, Rudy Magnani, always says, then why do we spend so much time shooting them down? Instead, add to weak ideas to make them good, and build on good ideas to make them great.

In meeting where the goal is generating ideas, “no” should be a forbidden word. Instead, keep adding onto ideas. Take them in different, illogical directions (a great brainstorming idea). There’s always time later to wrangle an idea back to reality.

Take it out of the office.

The idea of building onto a thought rather than trying to come up with others, can work anywhere, not just the office setting.

How much could be accomplished if we listened and built together? In politics? In families? A lot, methinks.


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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