I really enjoyed a video I recently came across from TEDx Victoria. It was Improviser Dave Morris presenting what he coined, “The Ways of Improvisation”. In the video, he describes improvisation as a way of doing things that can be used in everyday life. He makes the clear distinction that improvisation is not a single thing, but rather a process that is followed.
As I am a fan of applying the concepts of improvisation to achieving business results, I thought it would be useful to expand on Dave’s “7 skills for improvisation for life” and see how to these would look in the everyday situations we face at work:
- Play. Play is described as engaging in something because it is fun. Opposite play, at the other end of the spectrum, we find work. The statistics on employee engagement would indicate we are not having fun or enjoying work. The result is that organizations are not getting our best and brightest ideas. So imagine if we did not take every minute at the office so seriously and if every manager and employee was encouraged to introduce more playful approaches to business each day. The push toward gamification of everything from sales to management training and development is a great example of this.
- Fail. Dave talks about the importance of learning to be OK with failure. Picking up on the gamification theme again, who quits after their first round of Candy Crush? We have to work at just shrugging off failure and starting over. One exercise I have used with teams when the fear of failure is in the air is to do a round of “50 worst things we can do right now”—a quick brainstorming exercise where everyone is encouraged to offer up what they think would be a sure fire way to mess things up. Usually by the end of an exercise like that, the fear of failure is lifted as a blocker. People are left smiling, admiring each other’s creativity, and ready to push forward with a real solution knowing that the potential for failure is not the end but rather a step towards ultimate success.
- Listen. I love the quote, “listening is the willingness to change”. If we listen openly and to what is beyond the word rather than simply listening for our turn to talk, so many misunderstandings would disappear and so many new ideas and potential would be discovered. Leaders everywhere talk about trust. Nothing develops trust faster than listening. That said, listening may be easier said than done. It takes work, patience, and setting our egos aside. When listening is done well, however, the opportunities for new products, customer service improvements, bigger sales opportunities, etc. are endless.
- Say “yes”. A series of “Yes’s” will take us somewhere. It is the first step of creation. In my personal experience as well as what participants say in the workshops I run with my colleagues at Working Improv, saying yes can be challenging. At work, people may be predisposed to lead with “No” when presented with something new out of fear that it will add to an already overloaded task list. That fear and default stance puts an immediate stop to any potential new, exciting, business-enhancing ideas before they have a chance to take flight.
- And. If saying “yes” starts the creative process, then “and” is the start of the collaboration process. Someone at work has put forward an idea to explore and we have said “yes”. Now, as suggestions come in for how to approach that idea to realize the desired outcome, saying “and” will help prevent us from killing momentum. It helps to think about it this way: saying “but” rather than “and” when someone offers a suggestion intrinsically creates an objection and barrier to moving forward, as what normally follows are reasons why something cannot be done. Saying “and” keeps the conversation focussed on building on what has been offered so far.
- Play the game. This is basically following rules so we can get to an end result. Following the rules at work is not the problem—most employed people figure that out in order to collect pay checks. However the improvisation twist on it is to play within the rules at work using “yes and”. It is important to not waste energy looking at the corporate rules as inhibitors to success and raising objections (“but….”) about them at every opportunity. Instead, you can use “yes and” to help you embrace the rules at your workplace, be viewed as a team player, and ultimately ensure you are rewarded as such.
- Relax and have fun.
Reflecting on the Improvisation skills presented here, I believe a business process that has these as a foundation can only enhance a workplace. Does your place of work embrace any of the concepts of improvisation? I would welcome comments about whether you see or could see improvisation at play (pun intended) in your work life.