Improv Hacks For PMs: Culture of Innovation

As a product manager, soft skill development is essential for operating at a high level. Most importantly, it helps you be happier not only at work – but also when you get home. For me, improv comedy is the non-product activity that enriches my day-to-day.

Along the way, I’ve been able to apply many of the skills that I employ on stage to my work as a product manager. From my own experiences, I’ll share how you can use some of these skills to handle common challenges that we face as product managers.

  1. Culture of Innovation. We’re always having to come up with something new.
  2. Swamp of Uncertainty. Product managers deal with ambiguity every day.
  3. Ugly Team Dynamics. When people don’t get along, we’re the ones who need to resolve conflict.

Beginning with Culture of Innovation, you know that we’re always asked to come up with new stuff.

From new features to new products, our role as product managers is to come up with the next big thing. To get there, you’re going to ideate and bounce ideas off members of your team. In the world of improv, the ideation stage is similar to setting the stage for a new scene. Said differently, you’re trying to create something out of nothing.

The biggest mistake that people make during this process is shutting down ideas before you’ve had a chance to test them out. Furthermore, this holds true not only on stage – but also when you’re ideating with colleagues. For example, let’s say I open a routine with “I’m out at the park” as the first line. If my response back is “no you’re not – we’re at the bottom of the ocean” – you’re probably going to think that a scene is dead.

However, the opposite is true with product managers. Bringing this back to ideation sessions, people are going to throw out crazy ideas. Instead of dismissing them on the spot, try using the “yes, and…” approach. For example, if someone on your team says something out of leftfield – respond with “yes, and let’s see where we can take this.”

Ultimately, this approach ties back to the “accept and build” framework. In other words, you’re always looking for opportunities to bring new thoughts into the conversation and see where they might take you. In the end, you never want to turn down an opportunity for your next “ah-hah” moment.


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About the Speaker
Slack Product Lead
Ellie Powers is a Director of Product at Slack - where she manages a team focused on optimizing the platform experience. Prior to joining Slack, she worked at Google for over 6 years - working on the Chrome browser and Google Play products. In addition, Ellie worked on product teams based in Europe for TalkTalk and VirtuOz. Following internships at Microsoft and Pfizer, she also worked at Microsoft for 4 years in program management. Ellie holds a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently lives in the Bay Area.
About the Host
Boone Spooner is a customer obsessed Principal Product Manager at Caavo - a device designed to simplify and unify your home entertainment system. Previously he built products at TuneIn where millions of users listened to live music, sports and talk radio shows, podcasts and audiobooks. In another life he worked as a music producer and engineer in San Francisco where he managed the largest recording studio in San Francisco, before building and launching his own. There he worked with Apple, Google, and KFOG and musicians Steve Earle, Alanis Morissette, Death Angel, Third Eye Blind and many others.

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