The following text is an excerpt from GETTING TO “YES AND”: THE ART OF BUSINESS IMPROV by Bob Kulhan with Chuck Crisafulli.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES IMPROVISATION have to do with business? Think about the major trends in the business world. Emerging technology continues to increase the speed of business. Moreover technology itself continues to change at an accelerated pace (Moore’s Law purports a doubling of processing speeds every two years).1 Business now relies on instantaneous, 24-hour communication as well as remote access to vital information, and any business that has trouble communicating that way is considered to be at a severe disadvantage.
The global community—corporate, consumer, and geographic—is upon us, and adopting new methodologies for effective communication and collaboration must take place between and across cultures.2 Even within individual workplaces the potential for diversity in perspectives— the probability that those around us see things differently than we see things—is greater than ever before and must now be factored in to how business gets done. Put it this way: reacting, adapting, and communicating are not a matter of choice for businesspeople; they’re a matter of basic survival. This has always been so, but in today’s environment the stakes are higher.
The skills of focused thinking and rapid decision making that improvisation strengthens can easily be put to use in many of the day-today challenges in your competitive landscape: dealing with personnel demands, overcoming analysis paralysis, developing creative solutions, increasing general efficiency, handling conflict, managing crisis, encouraging adaptive problem solving, and fostering intrinsic motivation in others. The same skills that make for exceptional comedic improvisation— intense listening, focus, energy, engagement, teamwork, authenticity, adaptability—are skills that any businessperson can use to make positive changes in the workplace.3
Beyond the scope of our rapidly changing workplace lies the simple truth that we are still human—creatures of immense gifts, and limitations—and we will always have to interact with each other on a basic, personal level. This need for human connection is very powerful and is the stem for the socially conscious Millennial. Improvisation is a powerful tool for fostering interpersonal communication, making connections and building strong relationships.
Corporate culture has become an ever more important focus in the business community. A slew of common buzzwords and phrases get thrown around whenever companies discuss the kind of corporate culture they’re after: creativity, risk taking, innovation, flexibility, strong and supportive teamwork, empathetic connection, authentic leadership, and of course thinking outside the box. Everyone seems to agree these end goals are positive. However, using a tired phrase like “thinking outside the box” to pay lip service to the idea that creativity should be encouraged is not going to get the job done. If you want change and fresh ideas, then don’t think about that same old box at all. The challenge for us businesspeople is not in coming up with catchier ways to describe our end goals. The challenge is in whether we actually know how to get to these end goals within today’s corporate climate.
Do you know concrete steps to create a culture in which people are not afraid to fail and are not afraid to openly share ideas? Do you know how to instill trust and mutual support in your team? Do you know how to inspire an attitude of openness and acceptance in others?
Do you know how to connect and engage with people quickly to build strong relationships? If you want to say yes, then improvisation can give you the tools to make it so. In the following pages we’ll lay a foundation for the entire book by demonstrating how improv is used in business, describing the skill set necessary for improvising well, defining the barriers to successful improvisation, and examining the core concepts of divergent and convergent thinking.
Copyright (c) 2017
Robert Kulhan. All rights reserved. Published by Stanford University Press in hardback and electronic editions, sup.org. No further reproduction or distribution is allowed without the publisher’s prior permission.