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Trying To Be Smarter? Turn Your Brain Off.

It's true. Your brain is keeping you from being smarter. How is that, you say?

Well, here's my interpretation, based on what I learned from this great article about improv's effect on the brain: The ultimate purpose for humans is to create - it is our highest gift. Put another way, it's the biggest way we use our "smarts". One of the key areas of the brain that is involved in creativity is the medial prefrontal cortex and studies show it is more active when people are improvising.

A related area of the brain, one that censors our thoughts, i.e., stifles our creative smarts, is called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The Psychology Today article indicates that improvisational activities help us turn off the censors that keep up us from being more creative.

So when we turn (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex part of) our brain off, we get smarter. You with me?

[I just got smarter by saying "dorsolateral prefrontal cortex" to myself.]

Ok, that's probably enough of me playing armchair brain scientist for now. But I'll tell you this from my own lived experience: Improv frees up your mind. I know this from the hundreds upon hundreds of hours I've spent training, performing, and demonstrating improv.

"But what is it about improv that quiets our inner critic and therefore allows creative parts of the brain to flourish? Improv, whether it’s music, dance, or acting, requires players to focus."

You cannot enjoy doing improv without being extremely focused on the present moment. Like, ninja focused. You miss a cue or something your scene partner said and you've either missed a great opportunity to create something, or worse, you've completely toasted the scene.

The kind of focus used in improv helps create a fun show at my local improv theater. In "surreal life" (you know, the business world) an improviser's mindset helps us turn off the chatter in our minds. And that chatter is dangerous. It holds us back from many things, like being creative, making sound decisions, comprehending what a conversation partner really said, the point your boss just made in that department meeting, and so on.

So why does this matter to you, actual person who has big business concerns to think about? Here's what Psychology Today says:

Improv principles such as the rule of agreement are about positive, collaborative communication, which is something that’s in demand in many areas. Improv can serve as a lens to discuss ways to improve mental health treatment and care, therapy, social work, education, health care, business, tech, and any other field that requires clear, collaborative communication.

"... any other field that requires clear, collaborative communication." Umm, that's like, every field, right? Seriously, I can't think of a pursuit involving a group of people where improv wouldn't have a positive impact.

Here's one more quote to really hammer it home (emphasis added by me):

Improv offers the tools to practice a different kind of focus that can change our brains and unlock our individual and group potential and creativity. Humans are social creatures, and improv encourages us to truly see, hear, and value others, which strengthens relationships and communities and encourages risk-taking and innovation.

I know you want to be smarter, or more to the point, create a smarter organization that works effectively together to create great outcomes. I know your people what to be seen, heard and valued.

So ... have you tried using improv to unlock that potential yet?

Why not? The absolute worst thing that can happen is you give your team a big old morale boost by letting them have some fun for a couple of hours. But that won't be all - I guarantee it! They'll walk away trusting each other more, feeling more connected, and they might just seem smarter.

I'd love to offer you a free hour of my time to show you how improv will help you and your team with all that, and more!


Jim Young is a trained improviser, business coach, former corporate executive, and a Dad. The latter identity involves many jokes that his kids publicly dislike and secretly love. When he's not Dadding, improvising or coaching, he loves to work with organizations to help them see how improv can elevate their business capabilities in more ways than you can imagine.

Jim partners with Happier Valley Comedy on their Through Laughter program, which has brought joy, ease, and a new form of smarts to a vast gaggle of organizations over the years.

To learn how improv can help your team, email Jim at


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