3 Innovation Lessons from Louis C.K.

by Nick Partridge

3 Innovation Lessons from Louis C.K.


Despite all the talk of disruption and rapid Fortune 500 turnover it can feel like the same old brands are touted as the titans of innovation year in and out.

In this multi-part series I’ll look beyond the beloved behemoths and startup darlings to discover innovation inspiration in unlikely sources — NPR, opera & stand-up comedy.

Walk into a 50-seat New York comedy club and you won’t just see amateurs and wannabes on-stage grinding it out. It’s not uncommon to see major acts like Louis CK and Chris Rock preparing for their next big tour or TV special in a hole-in-the-wall.

So why do ultra-famous comedians play for peanuts on a Wednesday night in January?


Even the most confident, seasoned pros know a sold-out Madison Square Garden isn’t the place to perform brand-new untested material.

A small club, like the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village, offers comedians the perfect venue to safely experiment with new material, while still getting the live, authentic audience feedback they need to refine a joke. Big comedians purposefully use these venues to rapidly trial an array of ambitious jokes, in hopes of finding the few diamonds in the rough.

Audiences are happy to play their part, suffering through a few bombs, to have seen a famous comedian’s freshest material months before it makes its way to Netflix. And club owners and up-and-comers are ecstatic to share their small stage to bask in the reflective glow of fame.

Few comedians leverage this unique method more than Aziz Ansari. In preparation for his 5-minute SNL monologue, Ansari performed as often as 10 times a night, rushing from club to club, pushing and polishing his set more than 100 times.

So while the practice of rapid improvements through live test-and-learn experiments is en vogue for innovation, it’s long been best practice of stand-up comedians.

You see, stand-up, sketch comedy and improv have more to teach innovation than just the power of “Yes, and…”

3 Ways to Innovate like a Comedian

1. Low-stakes, low-cost, live learning methods: Corporate innovators must obsess over creating their versions of the 50-seat club — methods and platforms for low-stakes, low-cost experiments that yield live, ‘in the wild’ learning. Costly pilots and quantitative concept testing simply do not provide the rapid learning cycles innovation teams need. From smoke tests to influencer-fueled MVPs the LPK team obsesses over developing new techniques for low-stakes, high-learning experiments.

2. Learn Now, Succeed Later: For Louis CK or Chris Rock, the objective at the small club is learning, not big laughs. While it’s tempting to want every early experiment to be a resounding success, you’re better off using your experiments for what they’re intended — learning. Test early and often in order to (in)validate your proposition’s most critical assumptions.

3. A Live Deadline Creates Urgency: As SNL’s Lorne Michaels famously says, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” Innovation teams struggling with their ‘pace to market’, would be wise to take inspiration from the SNL puppet-master, and work in sprints, creating drop-dead deadlines to drive urgency and get the 11th hour adrenaline pumping.

Where do you find fresh insight in unlikely spaces? 


I’m always up to chat with people who are looking for new ways of working. Set up a quick 20-minute chat with me here.

Interested in receiving the full set of LPK’s Roadblocks to Innovation cards and sharing feedback? Visit https://roadblocks.lpklab.com/

(image credit: Louis, FX – Amy Schumer)

Free Experiment Canvas

Nicholas PartridgeNicholas Partridge is senior innovation director at LPK and he’s obsessed with creating “the new”: be it product, service, brand or experience. Nick is a veteran innovator, having partnered with the world’s most powerful brands and scrappy upstarts on their hairiest innovation challenges. Prior to LPK, he served as co-head of Idea Couture (NYC), as innovation director at Fahrenheit 212 (NYC) and as industrial designer at Essential (Boston). On Twitter at @KnewNewNeu.

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