Monday, February 27, 2012

Improv at Work

As I exercised my faculty discount I found myself in a conversation with the clerk checking out my art supplies at FLAX.  He asked me what I taught at Stanford, and when I replied “Improvisation” he cheered up.

“What do you teach in an improv class?” he asked.  

“Improv is where we put people above ideas,” I replied (surprising myself with this slick logo).  “More important than content is relationship.  It’s the class in which we learn that good will and cooperation trumps cleverness. In an improv class we study how to put our ego in the back seat.”

At least these are the values that I emphasize when I teach the fundamentals of improvising.  Intrinsic to the practice of Yes-AND is the notion that my job as a partner is to accept, make sense out of and then add to whatever my partner offers to start a scene.  It does not matter what the offer is. We simply avoid judgment or evaluation during the act of improvising.  (That may come later … ) Knowing that we are on stage (in this life?) together to move a story forward in real time means that I have to develop the part of me that creates constructively with the materials at hand whatever they are.  I don’t have time to stand around and debate if this is a good idea.   It’s my job to make it work.  And what blows me away is how often this strategy succeeds at creating something wonderful. 

Of course, the work place isn’t an improv stage, and there are consequences to decisions.  In the big picture the improv maxim:  “All ideas are equally valid … as starting places” isn’t strictly true.  Some ideas turn out to be better than others.  However, if we use the improv model to explore possibilities to get to those really useful ideas/products/approaches I believe that worlds can open up.  And, a secondary payoff in the workplace is the sense of trust and good will that can develop among colleagues if we all become more likely to accept the ideas of others.  Playing the critic is so yesterday! Wouldn’t you like to be part of a company that puts people above ideas?  I would.

Reposted from Improv At Work