Book Review: “The Art of Making Sh!t Up – How to Work Together to Become an Unstoppable Powerhouse,” by Norm Laviolette

Anyone who has watched improvisational comedy (think “Whose Line Is it Anyway?”), has probably marveled at the comedians’ abilities to think on their feet, act spontaneously and follow a thread of an idea to its unanticipated conclusion. The whacky and unexpected meanders that the scenes take as they build upon each actor’s off-the-wall associations is creative magic in action.

Norm Laviolette, who has performed, directed and produced improvisational comedy for more than 20 years and has worked with several Fortune 500 companies to strengthen corporate culture, now shares the secrets of applying the techniques of improv to expand creative ideas and encourage inclusivity in his new book, The Art of Making Sh!t Up – How to Work Together to Become an Unstoppable Powerhouse (Wiley, May 7, 2019).  This entertaining and highly readable book addresses concepts that both the individual entrepreneur and the corporate leader must embrace to develop a “creation mindset.”

The Art of Making Sh!t Up offers lively descriptions from the world of improv that can be used to create the optimal conditions for developing and acting on new, innovative ideas. For example, instead of becoming defensive or standing your ground around your personal ideas, scene partners in improv use a “heightening” technique to build off each other’s prompts. It allows their unfettered imaginations to go places that are original, outlandish and exciting. He illustrates how heightening generates ideas by sharing the thread of how his affection for rescue dogs morphs into creating a home for stray dogs, which morphs into buying a ranch and naming it Dog Ranch, which morphs into developing the ranch into a legal pot farm that funds the saving of more dogs.

Too often, naysayers — or our own fear of failure — put the kibosh on an incubating idea. Making simple changes in what words to use, such as avoiding the words “no” or “yes, but…,” supports an iterative process that lets a team explore a concept’s full potential. Through lessons learned from improv, Laviolette prescribes changing “yes, but” to “yes, and.” Simply switching the word will invite more team input and inventiveness.

The Art of Making Sh!t Up is loaded with advice, packaged in such a way that makes implementation seem fun, and even practical. From using more declarative statements as a way to shut down negative feedback (“I’m taking yoga now”), to honing one’s observational acuity in order to capture the raw material that can be turned into ideas, the book helps readers put inspiration into motion. Readers will come away with a new attitude and confidence that will not only aid in their own inspiration, but allow their teams to make the most from their groupthink efforts.

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