Potential: Revealed

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Archive for yes-and

Yes, and…

A little while back I took a management development class (at Duke, with props to their exec ed team) that was unique and continues to have impact on my work and management thinking. It was an “improv for business” course, taught by an great full time b-school prof plus a colleague of his who is a member of 2nd City, the famous improv troupe out of Chicago (John Belushi, Bill Murray, John Candy, Bonnie Hunt, and many othersn are alumni). Some surprises from that experience:

Improv while looking chaotic and without form (and at a given moment it may be) is actually governed by some clear rules and norms.

Rather than being at odds with business improv provides a framework and method for breakthrough thinking.

Improv is first about listening, then about acting. Intense listening with the intent to truly understanding the sender’s message is the key to being a good improv player.

While there are others, and for the experienced improv player many additional and deeper levels to the world of improv, here are the most basic of rules:

1. Say yes, and. That is, agree with your stage partners, and expand from there. On a superficial level this agreement can be literal, eg. “let’s go to the gym”, “yes, and I’m going to get you RIPPED for your wedding”, but on a more fundamental level it’s about agreement between the players that if they are truly open to knew information — and trust one another — they can create something unique by building upon each others input and ideas.

2. Treat everything your partner says/does like manna from heaven. Everything is a gift, and if you take the time to really listen to/explore what he/she has said/done, there is a bounty of treasure there for you to use.

3. Make bold choices. New improvisers tend to put the onus on the other improviser to add information to the scene rather than you putting it out there themselves. You learn however that it is more productive — and more fun — to be bold and add as much to the scene every chance you have.

4. Don’t try to control the scene. Look after your own character, and trust that your scene partners are doing the same. The best scenes emerge from your interactions with others, rather than any singularly funny or outrageous thing you or another character says or does.

We did many fun group exercises over three days where we practiced listening — ensuring we truly received the message from our partners. This is not easy and revealed all of our weaknesses in this area. We also did many exercises to practice being “bold”. This rule (#3) stretches — and hopefully breaks — your natural defense against experimentation and failure. If you are going to be bold you will fail ocassionally (and a lot, at the beginning). And lastly, rule #4 played itself out over and over as we worked together and practiced improv scenarios, reminding us that the most beautiful tapestry comes from the weaving of many threads.

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