Digital Publishing and Tina Fey's Rules of Improv

I’m currently reading Tina Fey’s Bossypants. In one chapter she writes about her entry into the world of improv and lists her version of the Rules of Improv. Since my brain is constantly tuned to solving publishing problems, I drew some connections to the still fairly unknown waters of digital publishing. Now, I’m not talking about standards here (for once!) but more about content and what we can do with it in the digital world.

A lot of publishing people ask me what I think they should be doing when it comes to digital publishing and they generally don’t like it when I reply with “I don’t know. What do you want to do with digital publishing?”

The truth is: No one knows what you should be doing any more than you do. We’re all making this up as we go along and when you don’t know what you’re doing you have to improvise.

Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv

And how I recommend you apply them to your business.

(I would give you page numbers here, but I’m reading an e-book. All rules and text in italics are taken from the Bossypants chapter titled “The Windy City, Full of Meat.”)

  1. Agree.
    Always agree and say yes.
    Don’t shoot down ideas because you don’t think they’ll work. Maybe they will! Instead, start from the open-minded place of “yes” and see where you end up.
  2. Yes, and…
    Agree and then add something of your own.
    Youand everyone on your teamshould contribute to brainstorming. Don’t be afraid to add new ideas just because they’re new.
  3. Make statements.
    Don’t ask questions all the time.
    We’re making it upnobody has the answers! Instead of asking others what you should be doing, be part of the solution, make new and interesting things, and lead the change instead of following it. Stop waffling and do something.
  4. There are no mistakes, only opportunities.
    In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident.
    Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. They’ll either turn into something wonderful, or you’ll learn from them and have more knowledge moving forward.

A lot of the fear the publishing industry has associated with digital is a result of early ventures into uncharted waters. Instead of testing small bits at a time, the general approach of the industry has been to dive in head first. We saw a lot of big, expensive projects completely bomb, and now we’re afraid that it will happen again. We can’t afford to make those mistakes and we shouldn’t have to.

Later in this chapter Fey goes on to explain how the Second City cast would develop new sketches: “They would develop their own sketches by improvising in front of an audience, then keeping the ideas that had worked until they had a full two-hour show.” That method is the release early, release often approach of the improv world. Publishers can learn from the software development release early, release often philosophy as well (and, frankly, this probably deserves its own blog post). Instead of trying to develop something new that’s perfect in every way when you launch, try new things in small doses to see what works for your readers. Then, keep what works, and tossand learn fromwhat doesn’t.

Improvise. Release early. Release often. And listen to your readers.