Tina Fey's 4 rules for brainstorming success

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Tina Fey's 4 rules for brainstorming success
Tina Fey's 4 rules for brainstorming success

How treating your next brainstorming session like Improv Comedy can help foster ideas.

A successful creative brainstorming session is built from free-flowing ideas and—equally important—the confidence of participants to throw any and all ideas out into the open. While it may be difficult to remember that “there are no bad ideas” in a brainstorming session, it is nearly always true that once the energy deflates, it's hard to recharge the spontaneity of ideation.

Improv comedy routines are similar to brainstorming sessions, although improv is without the luxury of filter and revisions. By treating a group brainstorming session like an improv comedy session, the creative team may be better suited to facilitating an energetic and productive session.

In her autobiography BOSSYPANTS, Tina Fey shares 4 Rules of Improvisation that brand managers can apply to creative brainstorming sessions.

1) Agree and Say “YES.

When the ideas start rolling in the brainstorming session, there will probably be a few clunkers. They may die immediately, or trigger another thought that helps a concept evolve into something else─into something even stronger.

Instead of killing the idea with a “No,” respect your partner's creativity and openness, and reinforce the notion that brainstorming is a time when all ideas are worthy of being shared. By thinking “Yes,” you can help drive the session forward and generate more, and better, creativity.

2) Say “YES, AND…”

“Yes, and…” is a builder. Rarely does the first idea come out fully baked and wholly on strategy. Ideas start as seeds. Creativity requires building and evolution–adjusting a visual angle slightly to better highlight product or environment, or changing one word in a headline for a stronger benefit.

Sometimes the answer comes quickly. Other times it comes in a flash of insight outside the brainstorm—or from another team member. “Yes, and…” invites other members of the team to contribute a different perspective, to keep an idea moving forward as it gains strength.


The most dangerous hindrance in a brainstorm is not a bad idea, it's the fear of sharing any idea. Ideas, whether good or bad, have the potential to initiate conversation and to spur new ideas. 

A room of silence, on the other hand, generates no positive results at all. Present your ideas with confidence. People in a group will be more willing to consider your idea if they think you believe in it.

Downplaying your idea with softeners like “Maybe…” or disclaimers like “This might not work, but…” tell the listener that you doubt your idea before they've even heard what it is.

4) “THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.”

Fear limits creativity. When team members allow themselves to stop thinking of bad ideas as failures or mistakes, they become open to more ideas—the kind uninhibited by rules or parameters. As participants we must not permit fear to prevent us from sharing our ideas. And as managers, we must cultivate an environment that encourages all employees to express their ideas freely, without fear of embarrassment.

While improv and advertising may live in different worlds, they share fundamentals of ideation and creativity. Try following Tina Fey's rules for improv comedy in your next brainstorming session. Her guidelines will be sure to improve productivity and enhance the quality and exchange of ideas.

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