Part III in our seemingly never ending series...
This week we learn that sometimes thinking on our feet is the way to growing your business. Hat tip to Compliance Expert Health Wruble for the excellent content.
Improv and Business - why leaders and influencers should take improv!
While living in Austin, I stumbled across and attended an improv show called “Second Sundays” featuring the Improv troupe The Known Wizards, at the Zach Theater. I went back several times, and it was always a great night. In fact, I hadn’t smiled or laughed that much in a very long time. At the end of each performance, the troupe advertised their improv classes.
Eventually, I decided to enroll in the improv classes. Why not? What else was I going to do on a Thursday night? Three weeks into the Improv 101 class it dawned upon me that I should have been taking these classes all along, and eventually I came to the conclusion these classes should be taught in college, business school, and in leadership training classes at every major corporation.
By now you’re probably wondering – What are you talking about? How does this relate to business influencers? Are you seriously suggesting that I should take precious time out of my busy schedule to play games?
My answer is an emphatic, “YES.”
For most of my career I was based out of New York City and there things happened more quickly than, let’s say, in Austin, where I lived until recently. Decisions in New York were made much quicker, conversations lacked the usually southern pleasantries or “Southern Charm,” meetings got straight to the point, questions were asked answered, and assignments doled out. There was no hand holding in such a fast-paced environment.
When I moved out of New York, I quickly learned that is not exactly how business operates in most of the United States. I was going to have to relearn how to interact in different business environments.
As I said, this is something that should have been taught to us in college or in graduate school. After all, they are preparing us to be business leaders in the real world and in the real world there are places outside of New York in which we as professionals will have to interact with other professionals. We should all learn that not everyone operates in a “New York Minute.”
What does Improv teach us and how does it relate to the business world?
There is a motto I’ve loved hearing at improv – “Dare to Fail.” Improv teaches us to accept our failures with the “failure bow”. Basically, this means close your eyes and take that next step. Business leaders need to learn this concept as well. It is okay to fail, so long as you admit your mistakes, learn from them, and build upon them. Without acknowledging your failures, you will never learn from your past mistakes. Take that failure bow, admit your mistake, and improve yourself.
In the first few classes we played many different games, and one of the first was used to learn each other’s names; after all, we were going to be spending the next 8 weeks together and possibly longer if we continued to the more advanced courses. We had to become accustomed to each other, learn from our mistakes, take responsibility for our failures, not be embarrassed by them, and build upon them. By playing these games and making mistakes in the process, we learned to laugh at our failures rather than shrink from them.
Most importantly, the game reinforced that there isn’t an “I” in team, and we were building a team, an improv troupe. We learned that unlike other games where there is always one winner, our goal was to make others look good – if we accomplished this, we would all look good. This helped shy troupe members grow and become comfortable around others, inspire confidence, provide a new perspective on life, and builds character for all those in attendance.
The Pillars of Improv
There are several main pillars of improv which can help develop a business leaders’ tool kits. Bear in mind, managers are always collecting tools which we utilize during our busy days, dealing with staff and negotiating with counterparts or clients. Some tools we use once and then put away because it didn’t work, some we use once or twice in a blue moon, and some we use daily. We are actively collecting the tools, or pillars, used to develop our everyday lives.
These pillars are:
- Daring to fail
- Critical thinking
- Learning to listen
- Bringing big ideas
- Being engaged
As I continue my improv education to this day, I learn new skills each and every class. I take my learnings from each class and add that new experience to my tool belt. I find that it helps to keep an open mind and go with the flow, trying not to be critical and helping all my teammates look great.
Daring to Fail – What does it mean to be daring? In simple terms, it’s learning to accept failures while making sure that others are winning. This is one of the best characteristics of a good leader. How often have you looked around and seen someone you admire in business taking a leap into uncharted territory? That individual is daring to fail, only to pick themselves up and do it all again and again, until one day they have built an amazing organization? And how many managers do you know that aren’t afraid of those around them succeeding because they provided their team with an opportunity? It’s important for the successful manager to bear in mind that if you did your job right and the person you hired moves up the corporate ladder and potentially even surpasses you, you were the catalyst for their success.
Approaching the uncharted is a critical component of improv. A group of actors performs in front of an audience, typically without a script, using audience suggestions to stimulate and build upon their act. They start small, developing a scene, fleshing out the characters and developing the story or plot. The actors start to improvise, working with each other, using only the words, phrasing, or descriptions provided by others to build upon the scene. The actor has to listen and pay attention and be quick to follow up, as they have to help and build the scene and continue the thought process, painting a picture for the audience. At its most basic, these actors are helping to make the other performers look good while daring to fail. This uses several leadership “muscles.”
Critical thinking – The actor needs to learn to think quickly based upon suggestions from the audience, and build upon that suggestion. This is essential in any business environment, as outcomes are usually stimulated by your own reactions. Improv helps empower you to learn to think critically and react quickly.
Learning to listen – If the actor doesn’t listen, the scene will not come together and will leave the audience wondering what just happened rather than laughing at the performance. In business, if you can’t hear what is being said or not willing to listen, then conflict and confusion arises, and nothing gets accomplished.
Bringing big ideas – In improv you are on the stage, and you have to exaggerate your performance. Typically, there are no props on the stage with you, so in order for the audience to understand the scene you have to explain it, utilizing your words and actions. By being bold and using your words you can literally develop the scene for the audience. When a member of your team brings that bold big idea to the stage, it creates the scene and others help to develop the scene, each line describes what is being played out so the audience can now live the scene with you. Prior to your big idea, no one knew what was happening in the scene, you didn’t know where the scene would go, who was in it? But by being bold the scene with the participation of your team developed into the big idea that everyone watching can follow and understand. The same is true in the business world, do not be afraid to bring your big idea to the team and let the team help develop the concept.
Articulation – Whenever you meet a group in the business world, there is usually that one person who is confident and articulate and who dominates the conversation. But there is also that individual who tends to stay on the sidelines and is quiet as a mouse. How often is that quiet person ignored, only to later realize they were the smartest in the room? Improv helps elevate confidence, enabling you to articulate your thoughts, a skill that is essential for any business environment.
Engage and Encourage – How often have you been at an event, waiting to be introduced to someone or to become engaged in the conversation or group environment? Improv helps build the skills that allow you to open the door to conversation. The confidence to engage and encourage conversation will get you critical information and build the groundwork for a relationship almost every time.
Improv may not be right for everyone, but it helps in business relationships and teaches us to be better at what we do. If you are too busy, or not 100% sure you want to take a class, I encourage you to at least take some of these ideas and implement them on your own. Perhaps you are looking for a team building experience, hiring someone who does improv can help build bridges and build a better team environment. Dare to fail, acknowledge your failures and build upon them, articulate your thoughts, smile and be confident, bring those big ideas you have to the table, listen to others and always remember you win if they win, and make them look good – and you will look even better.
I want to thank Shana Merlin, Kevin Miller, David Ronn and the team from Melrin Works in Austin, Texas (The Known Wizards) for helping me in my career path and teaching me to fail and never give up. I want to thank my troupe, formerly class 101, 201 and 301, now known as “When Life gives you Lemmings” for making our class enjoyable and helping us all build an amazing team all while having a great time.
I also what to thank Michael Llorenz a mentor and one of my graduate school professors for developing my abilities as a young lad in college and graduate school. After 20 plus years we are still in contact.
Heath Wruble, is an accomplished business leader who now resides in South Florida, he is available for big idea consulting contracts or to help build a more efficient business for tomorrow.