The Surprising Ways Improv Can Impact Your Business

Jul 23, 2019 | Culture

Drama, stand-up comedy, jazz music, freestyle rapping and business – what do these all have in common? They free you up to improvise.

More often than not, improvisation is associated with things, yet improvisation is not a thing – it is a process of creating a thing. Actors use improv to perform theatre, stand-up comics use it to perform live, and musicians use it to create. When you recognize that improv is a process, it can be applied to almost anything – even business.

The following six skills are based on Dave Morris’ presentation, The Way of Improvisation. We have adapted Morris’ tips to business contexts, to show how they can enhance organizational performance. 

Play

“Work” can have a negative connotation – it often seems there is a never-ending list of tasks to complete. However, if we focus on being present, then work can turn into play.

If you feel overwhelmed balancing several tasks, it is best to ensure that the time you spend on a particular task is meaningful and uninterrupted. Don’t multitask – this will allow you to be more productive and to have more fun.

Let Yourself Fail

Everyone can fail – the hard part is letting yourself and accepting that it is a natural, and even productive, thing. In an environment where failure is allowed, people will be more fearless and come up with more ideas overall because they will know that there is no shame in suggesting an idea that doesn’t get taken up. It is better to have 10 great ideas out of 100, than to have 1 out of 10.

Listen

If you are not willing to change your opinion, you cannot fully listen to someone else. When having a conversation, it’s all about taking yourself out of the equation, and not thinking of it as your ideas versus theirs – but rather seeing the ideas as the first idea, the second idea, and so on. This ensures that all ideas are evaluated equally, and valuable contributions aren’t dismissed.

Practice active listening – the act of not only hearing what someone is saying, but purposefully and actively attempting to comprehend it at the same time. This shows you are interested in what people are saying and allows for greater clarity. When responding to people, ask questions to gain clarity and paraphrase to ensure alignment.

Say “Yes, and”

People who say “yes” to your idea and give you something in return are the people you want to work with. They are not only acknowledging your point, but are building upon it as well. “And” leads to a more collaborative conversation going forward.

That being said, you shouldn’t say “yes” to everything – it’s all about using judgement. At beginning of a conversation “yes” can make people feel good, and they will be more open as the discussion progresses. However, it is okay, and often necessary, to interject and object to maintain a productive conversation.

Play the Game

As Morris explains, a game is anything with rules. Improv is, at its heart, innovation within set parameters or rules. In consulting, for example, facilitations have rules: the consultant has to create a detailed plan, address particular topics, guide participants’ conversations, and synthesize the information. But, beyond that, feel free to improvise. Effective improvisation – being present, fearless with your ideas, listening and adding to the conversation while still adhering to the rules of the game, will enhance your productivity and creativity.

Relax and Have Fun

Don’t be afraid to ask your teammates for help – you need to have each other’s backs. To engrain this mindset into your organization’s culture, consider establishing fun and reassuring rituals. For example, before any big meeting get into a circle with your team and ask everyone, “how are we feeling right now?”. Then, one at a time, get everyone to say, “I feel excited!”. In a Harvard study, 140 participants were asked to say “I am excited” or “I am calm” before presenting a speech. Those who said the former were rated as more persuasive, competent, confident and persistent.

Overall, improv isn’t something that’s solely for actors, comics and musicians. The skills of playing, letting yourself fail, listening, saying “yes, and”, relaxing and having fun can help anyone enhance their performance in both their personal and professional lives.

By: Patrick Gleason

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