Businesses looking to innovate can learn from improv theater.
Leaders often get lost in the maze when it comes to discovering new techniques or processes to help their businesses become more innovative.
While improvisational theater is not new, using its principles to train workers to become more creative is, and it holds a vital key to innovation. Improv is not only a thrilling form of entertainment, but it also can help foster collaboration, improve creativity and increase overall communication within an organization. The very skills needed to do improv on the stage are the same ones that can help people succeed in the workplace.
Dan Maher has witnessed the power improv can have on a person’s life. Maher is a writer, director, and creator of the improv class curriculum at ArtsQuest. He’s studied improv at the famed ‘Upright Citizens Brigade,’ an American improvisational theater and training center in New York City founded by Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh.
“Improv is an art form that doesn’t work without risk. Because for it to work properly, you have to trust those you’re performing with to construct the story or scene.” Maher said.
Businesses today have become more open to the idea of fostering creativity inside their companies, but might not understand how to implement the necessary training to get the most from those initiatives. Setting up a creative environment involves more than just creating a quiet room with some bean bag chairs and a foosball table. It takes consistent effort, commitment and strong leadership. Learning how to do improv helps foster trust, encourages risk and sets up the conditions for people to seek common ground when working together.
It doesn’t matter if you are performing in front of a theater audience or presenting to a new client. The ability to improv in both those scenarios is relevant.
One of the most significant tenets of improv is known as “Yes, and…” It works like this; no matter what your improv partner presents to you, instead of negating it, or disagreeing with it, your job is to say, “Yes, and…” That’s what helps drive the idea and the collaboration within a scene. You take what your partner presents, and you add to it. They, in turn, do the same thing back to you. That simple, yet effective approach should be a staple in every meeting in every company in America. The courage to take a coworker’s thought or idea and apply “yes, and… to it and see where it leads.
Viola Spolin, an accomplished actress, educator, director and author during the early part of the last century, created something called “theater games,” a system of actor training that used games she devised to teach the formal rules of the theater.
“Play touches and stimulates vitality, awakening the whole person — mind, body, intelligence and creativity. The techniques of the theater are the techniques of communication,” Spolin said.
Maher agrees and adds, “Improv helps me get back in touch with my creativity. It helps me make sense of the chaos and encourages my sense of play, which I think is missing in a lot of people’s lives. What’s important to me is the pursuit of the craft. I want to do this thing well, and I want to share it with others, and if I can do that for the rest of my life, I know I’ll be happy.”