in Improvisation

Improv and Life: If This Is True, What Else Is True?

One of the most interesting rules of improv — if there are such things — is the maxim, “If this is true, then what else is true?

It’s the rule that has the most applications outside of improvisation for me, especially when it comes to general creativity and entrepreneurship.

But first, let’s examine it within improv. Suppose we have a scene that starts off like this:

Steve: “You know, one of the things I love about you the most is how selfless you are.”

Ryan: “I’m glad you noticed. I take it as a personal point of pride to be the most selfless person in any room.”

As soon as the other improvisers hear Ryan’s statement, they can ask themselves, “If Ryan tries to be the most selfless person in any room, then what else is true about him?”

They can initiate scenes, putting in him in situations where his drive to be more selfless than the other people in the scene is increasingly absurd:

  • In a hospital alongside a priest who is giving a dying man his last rites. Ryan might offer to die in place of the man.
  • Speaking alongside the Dalai Lama. Ryan might try to out-holy the Dalai Lama.
  • As a doctor in open-heart surgery, offering to sacrifice his own life John Q style.

“If this is true…” is a fantastic way to be “logically creative.” All you’re doing is free-associating off of an absurd premise, playing along with the reality of the premise. You come up with seemingly creative scenes as a result, but you didn’t perform any mental magic to get there.

Real World Applications

This seems helpful for teasing out new business ideas, especially in industries that are rapidly changing. In fields where new ideas are becoming accepted, you can ask yourself, “OK, if this idea is true, what else in the world would be true?”

Elon Musk does this quite often. In the brilliant Wait But Why article The Cook and The Chef, Tim Urban notes that most people think Elon can see the future and the rest of us are stuck in the present. In reality, Elon is seeing the present and the rest of us are seeing the past.

He’s asking himself questions like, “In a world where solar power is cheaper than fossil fuel power, what else would be true? Oh, we’ll all drive electric cars powered by solar cells? OK, I’ll go build that right now then.”

Of course, he has to be right about the fact that solar will be cheaper. Reasoning from the ground up, if he believes that it’s extremely likely that will happen, he can confidently start a business based on that assumption and succeed.

Whether you do improv or not, asking yourself “If this is true, what else is true?” will help you be far more creative than you ever have been before.