Always on the look out for resources to make a difference to those in his incubator, Wes Bergmann, principle at Beta Blox, decided to try an emerging training in Kansas City that leverages skills developed in improv. During a several year period of focused professional development, Bergmann experienced a noticeable benefit from the many improv workshops he took.
He knew entrepreneurs could achieve more success with the improved “thinking on your feet” skills that he’d experienced (and seen others develop) in the improv training.
Einstein thought “Combinatory Play” was the secret of genius and the essential feature in productive thought.
“Combinatory Play,” he says, comes about as a result of the collection of cross-disciplinary building blocks we amass — knowledge, memories, bits of information, sparks of inspiration, and other ideas — and then combine and recombine. The process occurs mostly unconsciously, and results in something “new.”
We build an infrastructure of “own” “original” ideas.
Often our fear of failure and doing the wrong thing zaps our ability to be present and project confidence, which is what is required of leaders. By developing muscles to deal with fear, the ability to succeed is expanded.
The course work is experiential and is designed to make the impact of failure be less and less important in a person’s decision making process.
When Ask.com began transitioning from a general search and Q & A service into a mobile focused business in 2012, they incorporated improvised play (Applied Improv) into their weekly routines.
Every Friday afternoon the entire organization utilizes improvised play and exercises to infuse innovation and creativity into their everyday corporate culture, says Lisa Kavanaugh, Chief Product and Technology Officer at Ask.com in this interview.
After reading a book by Tina Fey, their CEO wanted the organization to utilize improv based tools and exercises at work. He made it clear he was not expecting activities like those in the famous improv show Who’s Line is it Anyway.
Instead, it was borrowing from the pillars of improv and applying them to their business setting to stimulate innovation through a new way of thinking.
Some key tenants of improv are that everything that’s shared is accepted, embraced and celebrated; that you do this in the moment, and that you collaborate with others to build on those ideas.
“If you are afraid of failure, you won’t try anything new,” says Tina Seelig, Executive Director of Stanford University’s Technology Ventures Program.
Because creativity is essentially problem solving in new, novel and relevant ways, fear of failure impedes creativity.
At the other end of the spectrum is play, which minimizes consequence, is fun, is purposeful, is action oriented and players have a positive mindset.
Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, thinks playfulness helps them get to better creative solutions, helps them do their jobs better, and helps them feel better when they do them. Matt Weinstein at Play Fair says “If you’re having fun at work, the stress level goes way down, there’s an increase in morale and creativity, and customer satisfaction goes way up. ….because people like to do business with people who like to do business.”
A mantra at IDEO is “fail often to succeed sooner.”
Seth Godin’s thoughts on changing your mind speaks to the inevitability of needing to change and adapt to new information, and the need for skills in being responsive.
He says “It took me about five minutes to change my mind, after eighteen months of being wrong. I still remember how it felt to feel that flip switch in my head.” That flip, the ability, when confronted with a world that doesn’t match the world in your head, to say, “wait, maybe I was wrong.” We’re not good at that.“
Professor Wanda J. Orlikowski believes that improvisation skills in business create an agile, successful business. Her tips for success are all based on the benefits of implementing improvisation at work:
Plan to improvise – sometimes you can anticipate change, and if you can do that, you should plan to address that change in a flexible way
Adapt when you cannot foresee – as business rules are changing, adapt and test on a smaller, departmental scale before making company-wide changes
Create a learning environment – encourage communication between your employees in different locations and departments, push everyone to learn from each other
Encourage flexibility – to allow for improvisation, CEOs need to release some control and allow employees to experiment
Improvise today for success tomorrow – create a culture of experimentation and improvisation even when you’re not experiencing extreme change in practice for when you do need to change