The Importance of Mindset and Practicing the Big Five

Innovation and the key role it plays in our everyday lives


When it comes to a big, beautiful, exciting, but somewhat vague term like innovation, it is easy to migrate to the conceptual, high-level thinking at which many leaders operate on a daily basis. And that is absolutely great and necessary for setting strategy, goals, and systemic approaches to becoming a more innovative company.

However we often forget about the everyday behavior, because in a way it is so basic that the big thinkers – the super smart innovation architects – can assume that everyday behavior is a given that will automatically change once a great system is in place.

Over the last 15 years, Elena and I have learned countless lessons from our work in improvisational theater at the Brave New Workshop, the nation’s oldest comedy theater, about innovation and the key role it plays in our everyday lives.

We’ve taken our key learnings from the stage and applied them to the corporate world, helping leading companies and employees across the globe become more innovative. The most common initial hurdle is convincing the corporate teams that it’s not about strategies and great business tools, systems or processes, rather it’s about our mindset.

The Big Five Behaviors

Our mindset is driven by our awareness of five key behaviors that we like to call the “Big Five.” Practicing each of these day in, and day out are what we believe are the tools that helped set us apart, positioned us to take advantage of opportunities, to diversify ourselves in a crowded space and thrive in a business that today has also become our passionate livelihood.


There is a reason that listening is the first of the Big Five behaviors. It’s perhaps the most important, and it’s also the one that seems to be inherently critical and essential throughout most stages of the innovation process. Listening is about awareness, being present, taking what you think is your ability to hear, see, perceive, and empathize, and then cranking it up 100 times.

Defer Judgment

Deferring judgment is the Big Five behavior that perhaps gets mis-interpreted most often. We forget to focus on the word defer and somehow replace it with eliminate or avoid. This behavior is really about that first move – the question of “What is the first thing I do when something new comes my way?”


A strong declaration is one that is clear, concise, authentic and rich in content. The declarations we make – and the clarity with which we communicate our ideas, our points of view, and the information that we are trying to share – all can make us and others who may have feelings somewhere on the spectrum between confused and not confident, move to safe and engaged.


Of the Big Five, reframing feels like one of the most physical behaviors because it’s all about seeing the situation differently. Reframing obstacles, looking at the situation from a different angle, and finding another path toward the solution is a wonderful way to add value to any process. Reframing is an engine that provides a diverse set of perspectives throughout the process continuously and not just when something goes wrong.

Jump In

To jump in can mean a lot of different things depending on our roles, the projects we are working on, or what task we are accomplishing on any given day. It is the beginning. It is the opposite of hesitating because action demands we make decisions. And some days, it is hard. We rarely, if ever, have every conceivable tool or resource, or all the key information on hand before we hit ‘Go.” But enough information is usually sufficient and the truth is, we always feel better once we begin.

Embracing the idea of innovation similar to an athlete or an artist, you can create a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and lifetime plan to practice The Big Five and improve your personal innovation behaviors. It will show that everyone is capable of life-changing and perhaps world-changing innovation, and that if we all choose to simply spend more time in a mindset of discovery instead of a mindset of fear, our lives and this world can become a richer, more productive, and more innovative. 


JOHN SWEENEY is the co-owner and executive producer of the Brave New Workshop, America’s oldest satirical comedy theatre. He uses his 20+ years of improvisational performance, speaking and training to influence human behavior and to create simple but groundbreaking tools that have ignited cultures of innovative behavior within such companies as Microsoft, PWC, General Mills and UnitedHealthGroup.



Twitter: @iamjohnsweeneyLinkedIn:

ELENA IMARETSKA is vice president of New Products, Partnerships, and Sustainability for the corporate speaking and training business of the Brave New Workshop. She is the architect of the learning model and core curriculum of the organization’s offerings and has spent the past 8 years optimizing the business application of the improvisational approach to innovating, collaborating and leading.

Twitter: @imaretskaLinkedIn:


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