What's so good about improvisation for business?
Business Improvers founder and lead coach John Nicholson explains why improvisation training—via games and exercises derived from theatre practise—is being adopted by forward-looking businesses.
You talk about teams getting 'stuck'. How do they get 'unstuck'?
Well, it’s all too easy for us as individuals or as teams to gravitate towards comfort zones. Comfort zones of habitual behaviour where we don’t want to risk being wrong, or where we restrict the interactions we have because we don’t want to risk being challenged.
And the result of that is that we’re actually censoring what might be our best ideas. We’re missing out on opportunities that competitors are going to take advantage of.
So Business Improvers was established to tackle this.
Our training is about freeing people from making habitual responses in meetings and interactions. It’s about releasing the flow of new ideas. It’s about developing a person’s confidence to be agile - to go off script, if necessary. It’s about people surprising themselves, giving people the tools to alter their status. Essentially, it’s about not be boring.
How does it work?
Our training draws on the principals of improvisation. Now I know what you’re thinking. Those dreaded words a facilitator utters on a training day…
‘We’re going to do some improvisation.’
People immediately start remembering horrendous role-play scenarios from school or embarrassing work training days that they’ve tried really hard to forget. Of course, there might be one person in a CPD group who’s thinking, ‘Absolutely, bring it on, I’ve lived for this day.’ But I know that most, if not all the others will simply be thinking ‘please get me out of here, I just want to die’
Rest assured, Business Improvers training is different. It’s been designed for non-performer participants and also our focus is very much on equipping participants with useful tools that have specific application to work-based situations.
Improvisation is in fact an incredibly powerful tool for achieving change and development in the way a person perceives themselves and the way they are perceived by others. Up until this point, however, the CPD benefits for business have been relatively untapped, partly because of the perception I’ve just mentioned, but also because improvisation has been used in a performative way. The well documented games and exercises haven’t been adapted specifically for business before now.
What are the links between Improvisation and Business?
Being good at improvisation is fundamentally about being good at three things: listening, accepting and making offers. Our training is about developing those specific skills, like you’d train a muscle, because we believe being good at those three things – listening, accepting, making offers are also fundamental principles behind a business's growth and also a business's ability to have the edge over its closest competitors.
So how does it work?
Our training involves participants playing games and exercises derived from theatre improvisation. And the main criterion for us, aside from the learning, is that it’s fun. People learn best when they’re enjoying themselves.
Can you give examples of scenarios that Business Improvers training might address?
Ok. Have you ever been in a scenario where you’re with a client or you’re in a meeting and you’re actually more focused on what you’re going to say next than really listening to what’s being said? And later you might think, I don’t think I made quite the impression I wanted to there. And in truth, maybe you weren’t that memorable, maybe you sounded a bit boring. Maybe you were so focused on getting the content across that you didn’t sense how best to express it.
Or another example - you’ve walked into a room and realized that - the way you’d planned to deliver your pitch, just isn’t going to be right. What do you do? What skills are you going to need in order to change tack?
Or how about a situation where you’ve held back from saying anything at all because you feel you’re not going to be listened to. But what you really wish is that somehow you could just… raise your status.
Our training equips participants with options and skills and the confidence to implement them in these kind of scenarios. But not through role-play. Not in the way you might expect.
What will I learn from Business Improvers training?
The games and exercises are designed to hone a participant’s ability and confidence to be agile, to surprise themselves, to think laterally, to be elegantly wrong – that is, to accept that you sometimes get things wrong. But not to be thrown by that.
There’s no note taking, no long periods of being talked to, we get stuck in straight away, working in groups, pairs or individually. The skills we want to develop in participants are absolutely best explored and developed in this experiential way where the participant is actively going down paths they didn’t expect to. Making choices where they surprise themselves.
But isn’t that still scary?
Improvisation is often assumed to be about working without a safety net. It’s actually the opposite of that, because once you start to free yourself from habitual responses, once you start to abide by the rules of listening and accepting, your ability to improvise becomes your safety net.
You also talk about storytelling in relation to improvisation. Can you explain that?
Yes. Our training focuses quite a lot on storytelling because storytelling is at the heart of effective selling. Effective sellers, like great storytellers, know how to draw attention from their audience. They’re adept at knowing when and how to deliver the most crucial pieces of information – the material they really want to engage with and keep hold of.