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060: Improv & UX?! Yes, and… with Mike Gorgone

User Defenders podcast
060: Improv & UX?! Yes, and... with Mike Gorgone

Mike Gorgone unleashes his impromptu playbook to rescue us from our most unwelcome critic…ourselves. He teaches us how marrying the two seemingly disparate concepts of improv & UX, can help us break free from the crippling self-doubt that keeps us from our best collaborations. Yes, and he shows us how fun kills fear. He also reveals how even the “bad ideas” can lead us to great ones while building a fantastic UX punchline worthy of a standing ovation.

Mike Gorgone is someone who loves being part of a creative, supportive and collaborative design team that builds engaging experiences for digital products at a company that fosters a culture that values design thinking and makes it a priority in how the company runs and solves problems. He currently gets to do all of the above in the Experience Design (XD) Group at EY. He discovered Improv when he lived in Chicago and started taking classes at Second City and iO (formerly improvOlympic). Improv taught him how to be present and more aware of the moment as well as how to listen and absorb information instead of just listening to respond. I also learned (and frequently witnessed) that a group can create more amazing and incredible work when collaborating together in a non-judgmental and supportive manner than any of those individuals could have created working alone.

  • What Got You into Improv? (3:47)
  • What Was the Aha Moment That Inspired You to Combine Improv with UX? (7:43)
  • Are You Also Presenting at These Workshops? (9:44)
  • Are You Writing a Book on This Topic? (10:09)
  • Workshop Topics (11:09)
  • Where Does Improv Fit in the Design Process? (18:01)
  • How Does the Yes And Exercise Work? (20:57)
  • Coaching Through the Fears of Doing Improv (26:47)
  • Feeling Safe About Ideas in the Workplace (32:36)
  • What Can Help to Make You Better at Improv? (38:56)
  • How Can We Use This in the Field? (42:09)
  • Final Thoughts (51:50)

Mike Gorgone’s Website
Mike Gorgone’s Twitter
Mike Gorgone’s LinkedIn
Frederick Weiss’ Website
Thundernerds Podcast
Creativity Inc. [BOOK]
The Improv in Action Network
The Second City Chicago
Phil Hartman
Will Ferrell
Bob Kulhan (Duke’s Fuqua School)
Gilda’s Club
Baby Wants Candy
The iO Theater
Denise Jacobs on User Defenders
Jim Karwisch
Greg Tavares
Dear Evan Hansen
Let It Ride


Show transcript

Jason Ogle: Well, greetings User Defenders and welcome. This is a very special episode, today and this is all about improv and UX. Two words I never thought I would see together but I am super excited that we have Mike Gorgone. Is that correct Mike?

Mike Gorgone: Correct!

Jason Ogle: With us to talk all about it and guess what? For the very first time ever I have a co-host with me helping me ask some really smart and curious questions to Mike today and that is the one and only Frederick Weiss Von vise of Thunder Nerds Podcast. Hi Frederick.

Frederick Weiss: Hey Jason, thanks so much for having me. I’m super excited to be here. This is a great opportunity. I’m really happy to join you and talk to Mike.

Jason Ogle: Well, thank you so much man. Good to have you here. And Mike, welcome to User Defenders, we are super excited to have you on the show today my friend.

Mike Gorgone: Thank you so much for having me and the invite. I’m excited to spread the improv Gospel to everyone in the U.S. community. I’ve been doing that now like the year and a half through some workshops that the UX week and Midwest UX and down here locally with IXDA Atlanta and ladies the UX Atlanta. So, there’s been a small but growing community of people in the UX world that I’ve been able to talk about improv and take them through a lot of improv exercises.

Jason Ogle: That’s awesome! So, I’m curious what got you into improv. You touched on it, you started on it. But what was it about improv that drew you in?

Mike Gorgone: When I first started or what drew me to go take the classes?

Jason Ogle: I guess let’s go back to just what drew you into the classes like let’s like before UX, before kind of figuring out this marriage which I want to learn more about to your aha moment there. But what drew you into improv and then what was the aha moment where you realized that bringing improv into a UX design process was beneficial?

Mike Gorgone: Okay! Well, you know living in Chicago, it been a second city shows and you know almost always hilarious and a lot of fun to go to. And you know that was kind of it until my friend said Oh, I think we’d been a show and he said oh well they have classes. I said like they have classes to learn how to do this? Well that sounds really kind of interesting. And I grew up on the original Saturday live in the 80s and all that stuff.

Jason Ogle: Oh, I love that. Best season ever in the 80s.

[laughter] Dana Carvy, Phil Hartman.

Mike Gorgone: Yeah! Oh yeah, Phil Hartman was king. He was one of the guys I think they called him his nickname was glue because; like no matter what they put him in he would glue together the skit and make it work and then Will Ferrell apparently took over that position. But seeing, once I went to the website, you know they listed all those people saying oh all these people have been through Second City. Oh my gosh that’s crazy. I got to find out more about this. So, signed up and took classes and you know was hooked pretty much from the beginning. We had classes Monday night, we had a great group of people, like 8 to 10 people to start off with. And they let me you know say to everybody which was my kind of like running joke how many people get to look forward to Monday because every Monday night we got together for three hours down at Second City and got to go take our classes.

And so, as it progressed, once I got to my third level, one of our teachers Bob Cullen who was actually also a business improv guy, he does stuff with Duke’s Fuqua School. He was looking for volunteers for the guild club benefit was going to be like a 24-hour improvident where all the best improvisers in the city are going to come and you know raise money for her for charity. And so, I volunteered to go do it and I volunteered for all 24 hours of it. And I saw a group that Bob was in called Baby Wants Candy and they do a one act improvised musical. So, as they like to say everything’s improvised the singing and then they’ll put in air quotes, the dancing, choreography and music is all improvised. So, they’ve got a piano player that’s on the side and he kind of gets a read on the scene and he’ll start you know an intro to a song and start playing music and they will make up the lyrics on the spot. Well they had all their players there that night and I was just like, my jaw was on the ground, I was totally blown away about how they did this and I asked Bob about it afterwards, he said Oh yeah well we will be performing at improv Olympic and that’s kind of what took me from Second City to improv Olympics. So, they had Wednesday night, three nights at that point.

So on Wednesdays, I started going there and then once I finished at Second City, I transferred over to IO and just you know learning, seeing all this collaboration, how the people who have different backgrounds which is a lot of why of like UX, the people in UX remind me a lot of the Improv people where you know you have developers, you have visual designers, you have also you know people from backgrounds and psychology. All these different people with all these different points of views and different backgrounds coming together to create something out of nothing. And I feel like that’s a nice connection to user experience and not only are they creating something. That something is only going to exist for the 20, 30, 40 minutes of that show and then it will be gone forever. And so, once you see a couple of good shows, you’re like get really hooked. Like wow that’s all the time. I mean we’re going to see that. I don’t want to miss it because something really amazing may happen the next night. So, yeah that was the biggest moment that pulled me into the improv, improv scene.

Jason Ogle: I’m curious what was the, ‘aha moment’ for you Mike, when you kind of took these two seemingly disparate areas at least on the surface and you’re like, ‘’hey what if I applied improvisation to the design process?’’. Like what was the ‘aha moment’? Can you take us back and tell us kind of what happened there?

Mike Gorgone: Sure! That was starting to go to conferences. I saw people speak probably one of the biggest ones was you just had her on the podcast which is what led me to you know reaching out to you was Denise Jacobs. I saw her at the giant conference back in Charleston when she was there and she brought up you know, she was talking about creativity, that sounds like a really interesting talk. And she mentioned in there talking about taking improv classes and how there’s all this this really cool thing called “Yes, and…” it’s an awesome thing where you like learn how to accept what people are giving to you and build on it. So, and hearing her talk about improv, I saw other people in their talks mentioning empathy and we want to be, how can we be more creative and how can we collaborate together to be more creative? And I’m like well that’s improv, that’s improv, that’s an improv skill, listening without judging that’s an improv skill. Learning how to not judge your own ideas, that’s improv.

So, the more conferences I went to and the more I heard people mentioning all these terms, I was like this is like totally a natural fit but between the two of them. And then after that I reached back out to my good friend Jim Currish, you saw his name on the site. I went through Improv Olympic with him in Chicago and he is here in Atlanta. He’s from Atlanta doing applied improvisation. So, his day job is to go into companies and he works probably like a broader range of things, not necessarily focused on UX, that’s where I came into play on it. But he goes in and uses improv to help upper management communicate better, how you know and do a lot of the same stuff communicate with people collaborate, come up with more you know “innovative ideas” and all that stuff.

Frederick Weiss: Are you also presenting at these workshops?

Mike Gorgone: Jim’s? No, no. That’s his thing. So, like I said, I’m more focused on the conferences and he’s out doing it on a daily basis working within other companies. So, I guess I could say I’m like maybe more the tip of the spear and getting people introduced to improv and then he takes the ball and runs with it from there.

Frederick Weiss: Roger. You guys are writing a book as, well right?

Mike Gorgone: Correct! We’ve been collaborating on that idea for a little bit and we finally got the ball rolling. We’re probably about a third of the way through it, kind of getting the general outline and just starting to like throw out a lot of ideas. We’d like the book to; it’s not going to be a super super in-depth look at UX at the detail level and all of that. We’d like it to be for anyone who maybe has never heard of you X to give them a good idea of what the process is and what it all entails. But we want to kind of lay out the process of each of the different phases from discovery to kick off to discovery to research to collaboration and then coming up with the ideas and the ideation part of it and showing where improv connects to all of those things. And then also listing out and going over some exercises that you can use to help build those skills for those different areas.

Frederick Weiss: Well, I would love to know some of the…, touch on some of the topics that you have in these workshops. Like if you don’t mind if we just going to bring these up and you could touch on this like on the improv, introduction to improv fundamentals

Mike Gorgone: Okay!

Frederick Weiss: What does that look like?

Mike Gorgone: So well, for that section you know we’ve kind of got an improv section at the beginning of the workshop and in there we’ll go through some warm ups and the warm ups are usually to kind of get the jitters out of everybody because everyone’s usually nervous. They’re like Oh my God we’re doing improv. What is this all going to mean. So, there’s a few exercises just to get the jitters out, get them warmed up, get them listening and that will usually lead into some exercises for non-judgment and then that will go from nonjudgmental to listening to agreement, that’s usually the start of the workshop and then I’ll usually move over to the connection section. So, there’s improv exercises that help people to connect better.

So, I mean this is a basic actor exercise of like just mirroring. You know you have two people stand across each other and they have to mirror each other and you’ll have one of them be number one and number two is the other one and you’ll have number one lead for a little bit. And that’s and it always turns into like a frantic frenetic thing where people are like going super-fast and I have to calm them down because the point isn’t necessarily to go so fast to make the other person try to keep up. It’s actually just kind of you know maybe more like Taiichi where you moving slowly and getting in sync and then you’ll have number two lead and then eventually, it’ll lead to either person can lead which is kind of interesting because; you’ll see the people moving and you’re moving along with them and then also in your head, you decide I want to move this way and the other person as all of a sudden realizes oh you’re leading, now I’m going to follow what you’re doing and you’ll see it kind of move back and forth and that connection build between the two people.

Frederick Weiss: So that’s like listening with your whole body, right?

Mike Gorgone: Yes, yes absolutely. So, from connection it’ll go to empathy and from empathy building we get trust because you can’t really trust someone until you know you feel that they get you. You know, that’s kind of part of the empathy. You’re walking in their shoes and you really can understand them. And then from the connection section, we move on to a collect portion which focuses on awareness exercises and then also patterns and themes because a lot of what improv does is it looks for interesting patterns or themes. An improv show will open and talk about different ideas and themes. So, the most simple opening could possibly be just word association, so you could get a suggestion from the audience and the group, just starts throwing out random words and its word association. But from there you’ll see patterns and themes kind of emerge and people will start using words, they’re more focused on those themes and patterns and from there they’ll base the show kind of on what those themes are and they may not have anything to do with what the suggestion was.

So, that’s kind of what I teach for that section in that section. And that kind of geared towards when you’re listening to users. And so, you interviewed eight users, six users during the day and listening to what they’re all saying and you eventually going to focus and you’re like Wow everyone’s talking about you know this one part of the site that’s giving them a problem. You know it may not be quite that obvious but focusing on that kind of stuff. And then from there, it goes into the converge phase of the workshop and that talks about creativity and ideation. So, we’ll do exercises that are based on that and then we’ll usually wind it up after everything is meant to build on it. And the previous exercises to do and exercise that’s actually one my favorites. And it also seems to always really go well for students just because it’s kind of fun and I can always kind of guess. All right, I should say age myself or like get an idea of how old my workshop people are because I have to start, how more recent I have to go when I’m talking about this exercise. Because the easiest one for us to probably think up is like when Harry met Sally, when the couples are sitting on the couch telling the story of how they met. It’s kind of like that.

Jason Ogle: I thought you were going to mention the restaurant scene!

[laughter] Easy!

Mike Gorgone: So, it’s called The Interview. And so basically you have two people sit in a chair and they pretend they’re speaking out to a camera that’s filming them and they’re playing two people who like and know each other and they tell a story based on a suggestion that I’ll get from everybody else in the workshop. And so, I am yet to have it really. You know where people get stalled. They almost always seem to have fun with it and you know I tell them it’s kind of like, it’s like you know tennis. You’re hitting it back and forth. Someone gives a line, the next person gives a line. Well then you build on that line and together you tell this short little story for one minute and that is kind of the culmination of everything we’ve talked about previously in the workshop building up to that moment. And that one I make completely voluntary because that one is a little bit scary because you’re getting up in two chairs in front of everybody else in the workshop. So, they don’t have to do that part if they don’t want to because I totally get that that one’s a little bit more stressful. But everything else is either one on one or everyone else broken out into groups of six to eight people. And part of it is that everybody is doing everything and then in those parts of the workshops no one’s kind of like having to get out in front of everybody and do something and worrying about being funny.

And usually within two to three minutes everyone’s laughing, having a good time and I think as I mentioned Frederick earlier, fun kills fear which is a good quote from a very good friend of mine.

Frederick Weiss: I love that!

Mike Gorgone: Greg Tavares who’s in Charleston and he’s used that in a talk where he mentions that you know when you’re having fun, the fear kind of just actually just vanishes.

Frederick Weiss: That’s very insightful. I love how the whole gist of the core of improv like it’s all about listening, acceptance, nonjudgmental, empathy, trust, connection, how all that fits into what we do as user experience designers and when you go in to say a company meeting and you have egos that are combative and don’t provide that acceptance and building upon, you might not get to a good answer or a valuable answer. Sometimes the best way to build value is you know on top of a pile of bad ideas. At the very tippy top, you’ll get a really good idea. And the only way to do that is to have acceptance and nonjudgmental.

Mike Gorgone: Right! Right. If you’re willing to explore the idea, you really know where it could go. It could go anywhere. And as it grows, it could get to that interesting place that you like oh wait this actually this solution actually will work. And even like I mentioned with the opening of an improv show, whatever the initial suggestion was, they build off of that, that could end up not even being mentioned again. But whoever maybe had their first idea in the meeting, they’re going to feel connected to it because hey I contributed to this and it helps everyone grow this other idea even if it maybe wasn’t what my initial idea was.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, I’m curious Mike. Where does improv fit into the design process? Like what have you noticed so far? To me it seems like and this is me again just learning as I go. This is all very new to me, but it would seem to me that improv is maybe like incorporating that these exercises is maybe something that happens early in the design process and I’m not going to assume but I’m curious is that when does it happen and does it only happen in the beginning or should it happen throughout the whole lifecycle?

Mike Gorgone: I would say it is probably more geared towards the beginning but also the middle. Anytime you’re going to be interacting with the rest of the team or anyone outside of the team, I think there’s the skills are valuable. When you’re doing design reviews and you’re looking to get you know information from your teammates back. And if you’re going in there to help them, your thought in your head is I’m not going in here to destroy this design. I’m going in here to add to it. And how can I make it better and make them look like a rock star. I mean that’s kind of like one of the mantras is to play from the top of your intelligence and make your scene partner look like they’re a genius. So, I try to take that mindset into a lot of what I’m doing. So, it may not necessarily be like I have this specific skill that’s going to help me you know create the next greatest you know slide control. But it’s I think it’s just more of the mindset that you go into that makes you more open to helping everybody else. And that I believe come back to you know oh wow Mike helped me this last time. Next time he comes in and asked me for my input, I’m going to be more than happy to give him my thoughts.

Frederick Weiss: Yeah that could be anywhere, it could be in the stages of a design sprint. It could be throughout a little aside conversations here and there. I love that.

Mike Gorgone: And a lot of people you know Frederick you mentioned pushback because everyone’s like oh I can’t just agree to everything, we’re supposed to just say yes all the time and we’re not asking them to like say yes to everything we’re just asking to be open to exploration because that’s where that part really kind of comes into it because eventually yes you do get to the point of OK, we’ve got this set of ideas now what do we do. And that’s at the point where you can you know do things like voting or other things that are going to narrow down the list or you know to prioritize them because hey, yeah we do have so much budget or we’ll have so much time or you know we’ve got a development staff that can only get this much done., what can we get done. But you know hopefully, at that point if you’re using that mindset, you’ve gotten to something that is really good that will end up being developed by the developers.

Frederick Weiss: I love that you brought that up because we could always talk about the yes in concept. The way communication skills are based on contribution and collaboration, do you mind kind of roughly touching on that for the audience?

Mike Gorgone: For the collaboration part of it or just in general?

Frederick Weiss: You how the yes in concept works and how that’s dealt with.

Mike Gorgone: Okay! So, when we are doing the workshop, you know the basic introductory, you know yes in exercise you know and this is where you’re taking improv classes or doing this. And you know it can be a little stilted but it is literally called Yes in. And if we want you guys can do this exercise as well. It’s where you’ll have two people you know line up across from each other and…

Frederick Weiss: We’re two people.

Mike Gorgone: Yes, you are and you are lined up to each other [crosstalk 00:19:11] The gist of this exercise is it is obviously yes in. So, what I’m going to have you guys do is do like a three line to a five-line scene. And this is very stilted is the best word but it’s very contrived and you would never do a scene like this. But the point of the exercise is to get you listening and understanding and then responding by adding more information to it.

Frederick Weiss: So active listening.

Mike Gorgone: Yes, active listening. One of you will give a line, the other one will say yes, repeat the line, throw an end in there and add your new piece of information to it.

Frederick Weiss: So, building on the store.

Mike Gorgone: Exactly. So, a quick example and I’ll kind of like do both parts of it here. So, if I were to give the first line, I might say something along lines of I think we should go get pizza for dinner. Yes, I do think we should go get pizza for dinner and I have a coupon for buy one get one free. Yes, you do have a coupon for buy one get free, get one free. And remember last time we were there we had a big argument with the owner because the coupon was expired. Yes, I do remember the last time we were there we had that big argument with the owner because; it was expired. And this time I made sure that the coupon is good to go. So, it is just something basic like that where you’re telling a story together but you’re advancing it with new information. And again, the point isn’t to be funny but like literally you’re making it up on the spot but your next line with that end, is inspired by the previous line.

Frederick Weiss: Yes! Can I go first?

Mike Gorgone: Yes, you’re ready to go.

Frederick Weiss: Ok, do you want us to come up with a scenario or do you want to throw one out?

Mike Gorgone: No, you guys can totally come up with it on your own based on the first line of dialogue [crosstalk 00:21:12] you just go scene is the end.

Frederick Weiss: Jason, I think that we should start using oil paints for all of all of our wireframe from now on the company’s projects. What do you think?

Jason Ogle: And if we use oil paints, maybe we can try to see who else on the team has some artistic backgrounds that might be interesting.

Frederick Weiss: That’s a great idea. I know Josh Will has been an accomplished artist for 27 years and he already has a kind of linseed oil, so we can get started.

Jason Ogle: Yes. And I think that the business analysts are going to really love this.

Mike Gorgone: And scene. Ok, good job. So, we’re going to tweak this a little bit so Jason will start out this round. So, here’s the tough part. So, for our yeses, we want to try and repeat that line back to the person. So, when we say you know like I said with my yes or no I’m sorry. I think we should go get pizza tonight. Yes, I do think we should go get pizza tonight because what that conveys is if I can repeat that line back, I’m letting you know I heard you. This is what you said to me, I listen to this because it’s really easy to get ahead of yourself as you’re listening to them and oh here’s an idea, I got an idea and it is going to be awesome. And you just kind of jump right to it. So, it’s the yes, repeating it so that the person knows they’ve been listened to and understood and then adds to it so that the person knows the other piece of information and to make it even easier for yourself, if you keep it short and sweet, one idea. Because I know a lot of beginning improvisers though a lot of times, they’ll throw out like five to six ideas and it’s like three or four sentences and now the other person has to try and process all of that information which can be overwhelming to try and pick out which idea. Well, I don’t know what to respond to. There was four things that he just mentioned and now I’ve forgotten the first two things because I’m sitting here thinking about all of this and oh my God it’s been five seconds and somebody said anything and I’m dying up here somebody please call scene.

Jason Ogle: So, thank you for rescuing us this is such a stretch out of my comfort zone and I think that’s the point.

Mike Gorgone: Yeah! Oh, absolutely.

Jason Ogle: How do you coach somebody like me. I mean I’m an interviewer, Fredrick is an interviewer, we do podcasts. So like being an active listener is a really important part of being a successful interviewer of course but how does how do you encourage or coach someone like me? Like I don’t have the courage or confidence to just like I getting up on a stage and doing this in front of a bunch of people, like that is like a big fear right off for sure, but how do you coach somebody like me who just wants to do this, wants to be a more in the moment and kind of just pull random thoughts and ideas out of nowhere, like how do you coach somebody like me who is challenged with this you know?

Mike Gorgone: A lot of that has to that goes towards the nonjudgmental and because it’s not even just judging other people’s ideas. That usually stems from the person’s fear of judging their own ideas and whether or not it’s going to be a good idea or in the case if it on stage whether it’s gonna be funny and interesting and like I said like a huge character that it’s almost always fear based of worrying about coming up with that, that perfect thing which is why you know I don’t believe in you know the lone designer. I don’t worry about coming up with the perfect thing because I’m going to take it to my teammates and they’re going to help me make it better.

So, it’s letting go of that ego and worrying about stuff, you know we are our own worst enemies as far as improv goes. And so, an exercise that I have everybody do in the workshop when they’re in the group circle and I always freely admit to them that this exercise scares the hell out of me. It makes me uncomfortable every time we do it, because I cannot sing to save my life. I have no singing ability whatsoever but the exercise is called musical hotspot and they’re in the circle and one person has to jump into the middle of the circle and start singing any song randomly. Now this is to build trust in your fellow circle people.

Frederick Weiss: I see just for the audio listeners, if you don’t mind me interjecting, Jason is raising his hand violently because; he wants to sing.

Jason Ogle: I’ve been known to sing, started with that exercise then I could have let my ego out a little more. This is good. This is ego, good ego killing good and your ego is not your amigos is I always say.

Mike Gorgone: So, nobody should actually probably get out more than like probably two to three words of whatever song they’re trying to sing. Because someone will come out tap them on the shoulder and take over the hotspot. So, at best you’re singing maybe one two or three words out of whatever song you’re singing and you learn that hey everyone’s here to support and trust me. So, it’s not a really a big deal and you jump into the circle. Sing two or three seconds if that someone taps you out and that is a good way because like everyone and trust me like I said, it makes me so uncomfortable that exercise is ridiculous but I convinced myself whenever I have to do it that I know I’m not going to be out there that long and someone will come to my rescue, if you will and someone’s going to support me by tapping me on the shoulder. So there’s a lot of stuff and it probably goes towards trying to make everyone more comfortable and not worry so much about having to come up with the perfect line or you know the perfect ending to a scene and all of that stuff. It’s just going to evolve how it evolves and that’s the way it was supposed to go.

Jason Ogle: Can we try that exercise to Nickelback photograph?


Mike Gorgone: That’s for Steve.

Jason Ogle: Steve? Steve should be in here too. [laughter] [inaudible 00:27:17]

Frederick Weiss: I hope your guy puts in the music in the background for this part.

[Music Playing 00:27:29]

Frederick Weiss: I think it’s about not taking yourself too seriously and being open and being willing to share your ideas. Like you said Mike it’s not about holding things back and judging yourself you know as you also said you could be your own worst enemy, but get any ideas out there on the table so we can just start getting ideas. And if it’s that nonjudgmental environment, we could take some inspiration from things here and there and find the value in that and build upon.

Mike Gorgone: Yeah probably and that’s called you know ego, you’re in your head, you know you’re thinking way too much on the side about what I should start with this line, where it should be, who am I rather than just you know there’s like just go do something, do anything. And if I ever feel myself when I’ve done scenes that you know I like God I don’t know what to do, I will just go out and I will mirror whatever the other person is doing. So, if it looks like they’re stacking boxes, I start stacking boxes. If it looks like they’re cooking something, I start going over and look like I’m you know you know cutting vegetables or something. I join what they’re doing because they’re doing something and it’s you know getting that momentum going and just getting out there get past that block that keeps you on the side.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, I love this and this is so like innovative and new. Like these ideas and really not talked about that much, that why I’m glad we’re doing this and talking about this. I think a lot of the Defenders listening, their horizons are being expanded and I think they’re going to want to try to bring some of these exercises in to their environments and to their teams and you know. But here’s the thing and then I just did it. I just said here but, I just you know I didn’t yes in my own statement. But I do have a concern about this and it’s just that there’s a lot of teams, there’s a lot of cultures, that just where teams don’t feel safe especially in the creative environments, right. Because we’re kind of expected to come up with ideas like as creative people. It’s just like Oh yeah just you know they’re creative people will make it look pretty, they’re creative people, will come up with this tagline or this marketing campaign or this UI or you know like just pass it over to the creative people. But unfortunately, a lot of times because of culture and culture trickles down always. And so maybe because of poor leadership or people just don’t, I think that a lot of people especially newer designers, they don’t feel comfortable, they don’t feel safe enough even though they want to, they want to, but they just don’t feel safe in those environments. Like what do you say to that?

Mike Gorgone: It’s interesting you mentioned that. Because I think when we’ve spoken, I’m reading Creativity Inc, right now buy [00:30:20]

Jason Ogle: Oh yeah. Great book!

Mike Gorgone: And he mentions that in there that you know they’ve made it a point at Pixar to make sure everybody actually really understands that you know it is safe to express themselves and their ideas and that you know they don’t think of failure as a failure. It’s really just an experiment and learning and because they have worked to you know make that the mindset that people are more free to express ideas, because they know that you know they’re not going to you know get crushed you know if the idea doesn’t end up working. So, I think that’s definitely a key part of it. You definitely want you know the leadership to be working towards that atmosphere of trying to make sure people that are collaborating trust each other and that’s where a lot of these exercises come. You know a lot of it’s like you know trust we don’t necessarily trust you guys, so we’re not going to give you all the information.

So, you know I think on our part, the UX side of things, you know if we’re reaching out in this manner and including them more rather than just like you know we’re the designers, you guys just go over there and let us do our thing and we’ll come back to you with it and make them part of the process and they see that you’re working in this manner, I think that can go a long way to overcoming a lot of that. Make sure the bees are there and that you’re sincerely asking them for their opinion. Let them know that. I’m going to come up with…, I’m going to go work on a design for this, I’m not asking you to design it, but I need your input as to what’s important to this project that you can help me with. So, I think if we kind of go in there with that sort of like that humble attitude of like we’re here to work with you. How can we do that? How can we make your life easier with our solutions and our work? I think that can go a long way to establishing that trust and that connection with them. So, that they’re more willing to work with us.

Jason Ogle: I like that a lot. I’ve said it before. If you have to say, ‘because I’m the designer,’ you’ve just proven that you’re not. Yeah, I think that and honestly like and I’ll raise my hand like a lot of it had to do with lack of confidence, as a newer designer. You know kind of feeling like I’ve got to be right about everything. And it’s really that that lack of self-confidence. And in passing the buck and everything. So, like it’s always like well I’m the professional, you know you don’t tell a pool cleaner how to clean a pool, you don’t tell a designer how to design. You know and that’s just it comes from insecurity. It’s and it comes from ego and all the things that are antithetical to improvisation. And so, I think that’s what I really love about this conversation. I think it’s drawing all of this out and I hope even if one team is changed from hearing this, even if one team can let their guard down and be more vulnerable, more humble and I love that also in UX just the whole movement of diversity, bringing more ideas and you know as ethnicity brings age. Like I think IDEO is really known for hiring senior citizens to be a part of their design team. What a great idea to bring somebody in that you know could be very well be using your product and hear from them like kind of an edge case so to speak.

Mike Gorgone: Yeah, yeah.

Frederick Weiss: Not all your users are 24.

Mike Gorgone: Yeah right, exactly. You know and it all kind of starts with you know that listening, the non-judgment and the empathy.

I have an empathy story from like my first level class of improv that like just like literally slap in the face. No not literally, but it felt like a slap in the face. And it’s like it was an awesome moment but also a moment that I am like it just makes me feel horrible when I even think about it. Because we did a scene and I can’t remember what the suggestion was. But it was me and another improviser classmate. And the suggestion was I think, I don’t know exactly what it was but it was supposed to be two gay men in an airport. And I’ll just leave it at we did a horrible job playing stupid stereotypes that are horrible. And one of my classmates was gay and we talked to him afterwards and I literally saw the look on his face and it made me feel like complete and utter crap and I apologize to him profusely.

I was like, ‘You know what, that was just terrible’. You know all that stuff up there was just you know out of desperation to try and be funny and you know I’m never going to let that happen again. And he appreciated that and he was a great guy. And after that I made it a point to you know play characters you know honest and real and you know that was pride within like the third class. And you know it’s like such a huge learning experience of you know witnessing the effect that something can have on someone right then and there and then taking that and growing from it. And I tell my students now a lot and I’ve worked with high school kids that play from the top your intelligence and don’t play stereotypes. If one of you should happen to walk in and know you’re playing with a higher pitched voice, they’re playing they’re playing a female, don’t make him the stereotype. You know play honest and play real people. And that is so much better than trying to go for the gag that you think is going to make something funny.

Frederick Weiss: Yeah, well said I love that.

Jason Ogle: Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing that story. So, what do you say to us like shall we try to like learn? And I’m blown away by the hose Line Is It Anyway people. Like they can just take objects or they can just riff and it’s like does it help to just know a lot about a lot to do this stuff?

Does it make you better at improv or?

Mike Gorgone: I think you know everybody kind of brings you know I think that gets where you go again to worrying about whether or not it’s going to be interesting and my creative witness in this type of thing. And you know there’s if you listen to Dear Evan Hansen the Broadway musical

Jason Ogle: Negative!

Mike Gorgone: Or heard of it. Ok. So, the final song in there, he opens up and the character Evan Hansen apparently writes letters to himself, I haven’t seen it yet. I’ve listened to the musical on Spotify and he’s writing a letter to himself and he brings up you know Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a good day because you are you and that’s enough. And I try to tell people that I’m teaching like you are enough. You are bringing a whole lifetime worth of experience and point of view to whatever the scenes are and you have enough in your background you improvise every day when you go to work and you’re having conversations with people, none of that stuff is preplanned, all of your interactions. If you go to the store, you’re improvising. You are doing all that stuff on the spot. None of that was preplanned. None of your conversations were you know you had them written down when you went into the office. We’re always improvising.

So, you know that’s what I try to work too. And you know for that kind of stuff, I’ll have them do a little exercises, I’ll have them you know hey when you’re walking around and you know when you’re at Starbucks you know find some random thing on the wall like a poster and then just do a quick word association of like four or five things. What does that make you think of? What does that word make you think? What does that word make you think? And you know if you just can do a little stuff like that, you’ll get a little bit better doing that kind of association of connecting things together and a lot of time students can make us go, Oh my God I was a home like you know the day after our class and I thought of this great line that would’ve worked awesome in that scene. You know in class last week.

Jason Ogle: How often do we say, ‘I wish I would have said that,’ like in our conversation.

Mike Gorgone: So, I tell him don’t be disappointed by that. That’s just your brain when you’re not putting pressure on yourself actually doing what it likes to do. So you know if you keep doing this and you keep having faith that as long as you keep working at it and you get used to just being ok with not knowing, that time will switch from the next day to driving home from the class to right after class to a couple scenes later when you’re sitting on the side to eventually probably happening in the scene. So, I like to use that as a confidence booster. You know you see you are capable of it. You were just kind of sitting there letting your mind wander and it came up with a really cool interesting idea that you could have used, you know two days ago. But if you just let go in and try to not let your fears take over, that timeframe will shorten.

Frederick Weiss: But practice is everything. Hey Mike you know one of the big things I want to ask you know, I would hate to miss this is what’s one of the ways that we could use this in the field? Now like everybody that’s already listen to this episode, what’s maybe one or what really good takeaways that they could employ at their office the next time they go in and say you know what, it would be great if I could help alter the culture in this kind of fashion. What could they do?

Mike Gorgone: Well we can do an exercise for that right now and this is something that everyone can use and I use this one at the beginning of the workshop and sometimes in beginning it. It can be used for listening and empathy depending on what I want to stress and that’s a nice thing about the improv exercises that all of them have multiple skills that you can focus on and you can reuse them and say hey this time I want you to focus on this skill. But this one’s good listening and empathy. It’s called Empty your pockets and this can be used in my opinion for whether or not the group is new. Like it’s a new project and everyone’s kind of in the room for the first time and getting to know each other or even an existing group because you may learn something interesting about someone you’ve been working with and didn’t know this you know for a long time.

So, I’ll have both of you find an object around you or on your person that is personal to you. I won’t use it right now, but like I used my wedding ring as an example and I go through that when I’m at the workshops. So, something that’s personal to you. And then each of you will take a turn, telling the story of that object for one minute and the other person’s job is to just listen again actively and absorb. Try to keep those urges to interrupt from you know making you speak or guilt something that causes your mind to wander off to something else. You know, like I mentioned you know I got this keychain at Disneyworld and that causes your mind to wander like when you maybe were at Disneyworld with your family. It’s really focusing on the story the other person is telling you and connecting to them about their story on this object. So, if you guys have your object. Frederick’s got his. So, I will have him go first and you’re going to tell Jason the story of this object for about a minute. If it doesn’t go a minute that’s fine, we don’t have to actually go for the full minute but if we do hit a minute, I will call time and then it will flip flop and Jason can do the opposite.

So, when you are ready Frederick go.

Frederick Weiss: Okay, I pick my Fitbit because it’s the first thing like that and it helps me get away from the screening which is a big thing. It’s important for me to have other interests outside of work, outside of the computer to focus on my health and get out of my head. So, this really helps because I could read tech articles all day, I could do tutorials all day but if I could get out and get a run or hit the gym and I could get out of my head, I could reenergize that. That’s great for me. So, this motivates me to get out there I could track everything, [inaudible 00:41:56] everything and helps me track my heart rate, my weight, my food, I could do challenges with friends for like steps. So, it’s a great motivator for me and health is important for me because I have a four-year-old and I want to be fit and healthy by the time he’s 14 and I can keep up with them and play sports and all that and I’m 44 just like Jason almost is fifty. So, I’m trying to stay active and fit. So, I really enjoy my fitness scene awesome.

Mike Gorgone: Scene. Awesome! There was so much fantastic information in there, that you know we learned about you. You know even in one minute you know we learned a bunch more about you than we’ve talked about in the last you know 50 minutes or so. That was that was fantastic. That was a perfect example of going through that exercise and telling me, you know not knowing what it is, but why it’s important to you and what it means. And that was fantastic. It was perfect.

So, Jason whenever you’re ready if you have your object ready.

Jason Ogle. I have a fortune I have a fortune that I carry around with me in my wallet, I even like taped it to keep it. It says you have tasted both the bitterness as well as the sweetness of coffee. And when I got that fortune, I just was like how did they know. You know like that is so true, I’ve had a really, really good cup of coffee and I’ve had a really, really bad cup of coffee and I think that the contrast is you don’t really know what a good cup of coffee tastes like until you’ve had a bad cup. And so, and vice versa I suppose. So, what a lot of people don’t realize is that coffee is a perishable product. Like I don’t care how much and I love Pete’s Coffee, as you know I have a story, another day I’ll tell that story. But Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee you can’t put coffee in a bag and grind it and put it on a shelf for six months and expect it to be sweet. You can’t, it’s just not realistic. It’s not real. And so that’s one of the realities is that coffee is perishable. And I know that because I roast coffee at home and if I leave it in my container too long it starts, I can start to taste the bitterness of it. So, that’s what’s helped me appreciate it. Coffee is supposed to be sweet. It’s actually supposed to have a subtle sweetness and a lot of people don’t realize that because they haven’t had a really good cup of coffee yet. And so, one of my goals in life is…, thank you.

Mike Gorgone: That’s good. That’s awesome. We learn about you and your love of coffee and I didn’t know that. I actually did not know that coffee is supposed to be slightly sweet because it always tastes bitter to me.

Jason Ogle: Thank you! Thank you. So, it’s true. Yeah!

Mike Gorgone: You know that’s what we love about this exercise, you get to tell a story and that’s so cool that you carry the fortune around with you, you know in your wallet and I mentioned this to Frederick when I did this exercise at Midwest UX two years ago. I did my wedding ring like I always do with you know we had a knot number, so one woman and I teamed up on this and this is I think a good example of how this exercise can connect you to someone because two years later I still remember the story and this is such a cool story. So since I did my ring, she did her ring and she talked about it and how she bought it and you know she was really happy when she bought it and I think it had some little things on it and she said she remembers one day where she like kind of like wave your hand or knock something around and it knocked out one of the pieces. And she was like so bummed about it like you know should I keep this? Should I get rid of it. And she decided that you know I’ve gone through life and I’ve had things happen to me that you know have dinged me and you know but they’re what make me, me. And so, she decided to keep the ring because it was a reminder to her that you know things happen that can leave marks, but that’s what made her ring unique and that’s what these things are that make her unique. And I just thought that was such an awesome, awesome story and it helped me to connect to her because we all talked about her rings and I remember it two years later and I know that she takes no personal experience you know very seriously as to how it makes her who she is.

Frederick Weiss: I love that that’s that character to how you build upon experience and you might have some of those scars along the way but that’s the things that you hold on to at preciously for context, the same way Jason was talking about the coffee throughout his life and a bad cup of coffee versus a good cup of coffee. The only way you know is by if you had a bad cup of coffee, that context of life and that’s how you appreciate the good things.

Mike Gorgone: Yeah, that sentiment totally reminded me of a line from the movie called Let It Ride with Richard Dreyfuss. Not a lot of people seen it. It’s like one of those movies that the more you watch it, it becomes kind of a cult classic film. But he’s talking to Buster Poindexter, it’s this guy who spends the day at the track. He’s a complete degenerate gambler and he has this like one day where he like gets all the horse races right. And he’s talking to Buster Poindexter after he’d like just like literally took like sixty thousand dollars of his winnings and blew it again on the next race. And he turns to him and says I don’t know TROTTER; I got a bad feeling about this. And Richard Dreyfuss this character responds like no, no, no, in order to have a bad feeling, you had to have a good feeling therefore you have no frame of reference.


So, I love that line from the movie. It hit just really you know pinpoints this guy’s character that he’s like just like always the naysayer and never has a good thing, a good thought come to his mind.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, you know that this is so great as we kind of come to a close here. I just first of all want to say that “Yes, and…” is that’s one of the reasons that I’m going to be married 20 years this year. “Yes, and…” is a really great way to stay married.

Frederick Weiss: Did you say, ‘’Yes ma’am’’?

Jason Ogle: Oh yeah. “Yes, and…” Yes ma’am. [laughter] [inaudible 00:48:21]

We’re learning. So, I guess as we close, I would just like to ask you Mike if you could just leave our Defenders listening just with some final thoughts, some encouragements. What should we do with this information? Anything that comes to mind that you have.

Mike Gorgone: I was like so excited for Midwest UX in Chicago this year because last year I should say because that’s like you know I’ve spent 10 years living there. They had it at the Athenaeum theater in Lakeview slash Wrigley ville which is where I used to spend all of my time and we ran the workshop and one attendee. Her name’s Lindsay she’s in Michigan. She has taken some improv classes and I’m hoping you know through the workshops, that’s like just a first step, a first introduction to improv and some of the stuff that it teaches. So, I would encourage everybody to look up and see if you have an improv theater in your local city and go give it a try. A lot of them have drop-in classes now where you can just go and meet up with a bunch of random people who are taken you know like a two-hour drop-in class just to see what it’s like. I would like a word in my heart when she got back to me and said she did her level one, a little recap show and it was so much fun. And she mentioned that I’m seeing how this affects my mindset of how I’m approaching things. It’s not necessarily like you know if you take a workshop on CSS and you get some cool ideas of how to use some specific CSS, you know text to do something, she’s like It’s approaching. How I’m approaching things and she’s like It’s like I’m actually seeing how I can apply it to like my life in general as well.

And so, I mean I’m a big believer that improv can make you a better person overall not just within UX. So that’s probably my biggest takeaway. If you can find a theater near you, go jump in with both feet you’re going to meet a lot of really interesting people. A lot of people who take it seriously because they want to be on stage and perform, other people who just want to try something new and different. And then in between and it’ll be really interesting. To get their points of view and you know bond with them while you’re going through the classes and having fun and you can see how other people are acting regularly in your life, you’re like oh I don’t know, improv is a lot more fun, looking around my own preference because they’re all super supportive vs. how everybody else is treating themselves and others.

Jason Ogle: That’s so good. That’s so good. Yeah, Improv is this can only make us better people. You know I think there’s so many benefits, you know humility right, checking our ego at the door bringing other people in to what we’re doing especially in the design process.

Frederick Weiss: I would love if you could obviously add this into the show notes, but if you could tell us how people could get a hold of you. What’s your website? What your Twitter handle?

Mike Gorgone: Sure. Twitter is @MikeGorgone and then it’s, it’s my personal Website and then the ImprovUX site. Jim switch it over. So, I think it’s and then it’s Mike Gorgone on LinkedIn as well. And I am always willing and happy to answer improv questions. I usually probably talk everybody’s your ear off at the conferences and my voice is actually not the strongest. So, by the end of pretty much every conference I think I sound a lot like Harvey Firestein to the point or either where I actually can’t even talk at all.

Jason Ogle: Better than sounding like Harvey Weinstein…sorry that was judgmental.

Frederick Weiss: Woof not accepted.

Jason Ogle: That was not a good improv skill [inaudible 00:52:20]

Frederick Weiss: But it does actually make in the intermediate part once it’s not quite gone. It does make for a good Krusty the Clown imitation. So, I think that’s awesome. Yeah, well, thank you so much Mike really appreciate you joining with us today.

Jason Ogle: Yeah! Absolutely.

Mike Gorgone: Thank you so much. I loved it. I had great time.

Jason Ogle: Now this is an incredible conversation, one that I have never addressed on the show and
that’s why I’m really, really glad we did this. And I know many Defenders listening are going to benefit greatly and I know I have a feeling you have Frederick again. This has been awesome, keep doing what you’re doing. Keep spreading the gospel of improv and UX and last but not least, I just want to say as always fight on my friend.

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