Whenever I meet with a client about incorporating Improv into their training programs, I hear the same refrain: "So, do I have to stand up and say something funny?"
I've even had clients who thought that the workshop would entail wearing funny wigs or hats, and everyone being forced to do 'skits.'
I understand why people are asking me that question - clients have told me they have had Improv workshops where the instructor made them make animal sounds and toss imaginary balls at each other.
All of these descriptions make me CRINGE. As a professional actor, I have been forced to do many exercises like this before. As a leadership facilitator, I would NEVER make my clients do something like this. Exercises like that are embarrassing, and do not achieve measurable results (unless I am measuring what I never want to do again).
To help clarify a few things, I have compiled a few Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) to clear the air:
Q: Is an ImprovMindset workshop embarrassing?
A: NO! We spend at least 30 minutes creating a safe space to allow everyone to feel comfortable with being on their feet and working this manner. We adjust as needed to the group's energy to ensure that everyone can participate fully and equally.
Q: Will I have to stand up in front of people and make jokes?
A: NO! The core tenet of Improv is about making the others around you look good. The goal is to make your scene partner look good. We call this an external focus. Participants can relax knowing that the everyone has each other's backs. It is not about being the spotlight, it is about serving others.
Q: Will it be relevant to my work?
A: YES! Each of the lessons cover everyday tools to help you and your team be more productive, efficient and clear with your communication. It also helps your team be agile, and adapt to new ideas and innovate. An ImprovMindset is a shift in thinking that allows teams to move forward, fail fast and learn, and drive new ideas to completion.
If you have any questions you want answered about Improv for Business, just drop me a note! I'll be glad to schedule a call.
On a recent trip to Kaua'i, I had a chance to learn a lot about the water, survival and some great life lessons. (My last post had one of those - about assessment and evaluation.)
One great life lesson I learned was about water safety and how to react in a difficult and life threatening situation; how to survive being caught in a rip tide.
The first instinct we all have, when we are caught in a powerful force of nature that is dragging us away from shore and safety is to swim against it. We are in a battle to ensure our own survival - against an OVERPOWERING force of nature.
What I was told is that if you get caught in the rip tide, don’t swim against it! You want to swim parallel to it, until you reach the edge and can then you can get out. (See the picture above for clarification.)
The biggest mistake people do then when they get free of the rip tide, they start to head back to shore. The rip tide is still there, and if you go directly back you'll get caught in it again and dragged out to sea AGAIN. What you want to do is swim parallel to the shore for a while, then head back. This will allow you to get clear of the strong currents at the beginning of the rip tide that can pull you in again.
As I thought about that - I had to ask:
What issues do we all get caught in, and how do they lead us out to sea?
What do we do to get out of them?
Are we frantically swinging against a tide to try to save ourselves, or are we calmly accessing the danger and discovering tactics to overcome adversity?
And, does our plan work? Should we have swam parallel to the shore longer before we go back into the fray?
1. Identify the rip tide. What is it that is dragging you out to sea? Can you swim against it?
2. Use the shore. Identify your guiding principals, and use them to navigate your way out.
3. Access the danger. Spend time identifying how strong the force is that pulled you in. Then after getting distance, head back to the safety of the beach.
Be safe out there.
I recently had the opportunity to take a paddle boarding lesson in Kaua’I with an experienced surfer. There are a series of blog posts coming up regarding this instance, as I found it pretty fascinating. If you are ever on Kaua’I, take a lesson from Bear Bubnis; http://www.kauaiadventurefitness.com
The first thing we learned was to respect the ocean. A few visitors a year lose their lives to the waves by not paying attention, and by not respecting the ocean for the awesome power it has. We started the lesson with some simple water safety.
Bear told us to spend 5-15 minutes looking at the water:
These simple safety lessons made sense to me, and make me question how often we all look at the warning signs in our everyday work.
And we can learn to respect the power of these forces, and be prepared for them.
Ask Bear. He’ll tell you all about it.
Design thinking refers to creative strategies designers utilize during the process of designing.
Design Thinking seems to be on everyone's minds these days. A simple search will reveal multiple online sources for college classes, documents and white papers all discussing the ideas and methods of Design Thinking.
What is it really? It is a group of people all building on ideas. "Unlike analytical thinking, design thinking includes "building up" ideas, with few, or no, limits on breadth during a "brainstorming" phase. This helps reduce fear of failure in the participant(s) and encourages input and participation from a wide variety of sources in the ideation phases."
It is a practice of 'yes, and'.
Improv provides the structure to allow Design Thinking to work. It is the basis of Design Thinking in the ideation phase; How do we continue to move the conversation forward and upward, without having a 'no' or a 'yes, but' blocking the progress? It is the base toolset. And as this article in Fast Company magazine says, Improv Comedians make the best Design thinkers.
So give your organization a good dose of Design Thinking in a fun and engaging way that they will remember and utilize. Give your company an ImprovMindset.
Public speaking is an art. As someone who provides multiple speeches every year, I have a chance to see many of other speakers.
Inevitably, I see the same thing. Like this article in Forbes, the same mistakes are made over and over. You can see the coaching that someone has been told, and the little things that a speech coach did to quell the speaker's normal responses: they walk in a straight line from one side of the stage to another, they try to have flashy graphics, and they start with a joke of some sort (which often does not work as well as planned.)
From my work as a professional Actor - we train to engage an audience. We practice bringing a personal connection, carrying the rhythm and tone, changing the speed to make emphasis.These are all part of the tools of our trade. And it takes years to master - one ToastMaster class is not going to make you a dynamic speaker overnight.
As with all practices, it takes perseverance, training and practice. And it shows when someone has spent the time, and invested in their presentation. It makes us, as listeners, feel respected.
So next time you have a big speech coming up - consider it this way: You are a world famous actor, and these are your lines. You might win an Oscar/ Tony for this role, so you want to prepare for every possible scenario, and stay on message. And most important, you want to be willing to improvise based on unforeseen changes in the situation and make it all seem like it was planned.
So be prepared for your next presentation. Take an acting class.
An article in Forbes magazine asked 'What is the #1 problem every leader has and isn't aware of?' Author Mike Myatt poses that it is problem solving - plain and simple.
When most leaders are asked to self evaluate their problem solving skills, they judge themselves as great fixers. The question is, what do they measure themselves against? In Kraig Kramers CEO Toolkit, he lays out simple tools to help leaders measure their organization. 12 over 12 moving monthly averages and other tools help to measure progress, so that you spend more time looking for why something happened rather than what to do to fix the issue. As everyone says, you can't fix what you don't measure.
Ask yourself: What skills do you employ? They can be simple tools like Kramers, or they can be more esoteric tools. I have even taught recent workshops using Benjamin Franklin's Moral and Prudential Algebra. Anything that helps you to look at both sides, start to consider options and weigh potential actions against each other is all you need. And there are a wealth of resources for leaders if they choose to employ them. It really comes down to what works for the individual.
So begin to identify your toolkit for problem solving.
In a recent report from USC, researchers discovered how being funny changes your brain.
They showed a cartoon from the New Yorker, and asked participants to create one funny caption, and one un-funny caption. Meanwhile, they performed MRI scans on them to record their brain activity.
“What we found is that the more experienced someone is at doing comedy, the more activation we saw in the temporal lobe,” said USC doctoral student Ori Amir, who led the study with Irving Biederman, professor of psychology and computer science. The temporal lobe receives sensory information and is the region of the brain key to comprehending speech and visual cognition. It’s also where abstract information, semantic information and remote associations meaningfully converge.
In contrast, the amateur comedians and non-comedians relied on their prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions like planning complex cognitive behavior and decision-making.
“The professional improv comedians let their free associations give them solutions,” Biederman said.
Many business leaders ask me what they can do to create more independent thinkers and problem solvers in their organizations. Now the answer is clear: Send them to an Improv Class! The more experience they get, the more they will rely on making new connections between items and creating innovative solutions.
For information about having an improv class for your organization, contact Andrew for details.
What do you like doing?
What are you great at?
What does the world need?
What are you paid to do?
And where do those things coincide?
For me, it's teaching. Teaching a subject that I am passionate about. Watching the small transformations on people's faces when they suddenly realize a truth about how they work. These things get me out of bed in the morning.
Teaching is also a vocation I fought against for years. Both of my parents were teachers. So I went to school for acting. I got a masters degree. I run a company. And, I teach. When I sit down and think about all the things I do, the one that brings me the most joy is teaching.
So ask yourself - where do those questions coincide for you? And how does that answer change your views on what you do?
According to a recent article in Psychological Science, most people consider themselves great drivers;
"... across all experiments participants believed that they were exceptional drivers—but only according to their own definitions of good driving.
Even when participants were provided with clear definitions for good driving behavior from the National Safety Council, they rated their own individualized definitions as better. The discrepancy between self-ratings and the ratings of others only disappeared when participants were explicitly told to use the expert guidelines as the basis for rating driving behavior."
Since there is no 'standard' for what could be considered being a good driver, most individuals have created their own measurement tool. They decided that the way they drive (fast and texting, or slow and cautious) are the correct ways to drive.
The same can be said of leadership. Since there is no single definition of being a 'good leader', individuals have created their own measurement. For many years, Microsoft believed that the 'stack ranking' was the best way to manage people, even though it caused people to work against each other rather than collaborate. Which leader decided that idea was the best?
We all suffer from a form of confirmation bias, and being aware of our biases can help to bring an objective view to our work. One of the things we discuss in my workshops is focusing on what is different, rather than what is the same. By focusing at the anomalies, we can start to see what is happening in that moment, rather than what we have assumed. Those assumptions can lead us down the wrong path into believing what we are doing is the right action for our team.
So ask yourself: What kind of leader are you? Can you objectively look at what you are doing and re-evaluate your actions? Do you routinely self-examine your practices to stay up to date and current with your ever-changing team?
By beginning to bring awareness to your own assumptions about your abilities, you can then start to make an active change to continually improve on what you are capable of.
Don’t just assume you are a good leader. Be one.
Many years ago I had the honor of working with the head of the Lithuanian National Theater , Jonas Jurasas. I was in graduate school, and he was a guest director of great renown that the school hired to direct a play. The show was a messy circus themed play that was a huge stretch for many of us, and a great challenge for us as actors and artists.
At one section, I had to descend down a ramp overhearing the onstage conversation. I would start walking and Jonas would say "faster!" so I would speed up. Then he would say "slower!" and I would slow down. Then he would say "No! Faster!" and I would speed up. Only to have him say "No! Slower!" I finally took the moment at a great to ask him, “When I make that entrance, do you want me to move fast, or slow?" His answer was emphatically “Yes!”
At first I thought it was a translation barrier. Did he understand what I was asking him? His english was quite good, but there had been a few translation errors in the process. So I asked him again, "What I am wondering is, should I move fast, or should I move slow?" His answer again - "YES!"
After a few other questions, he finally clarified what he wanted. He said "you are walking slowly, but you are moving so fast inside!”
At first, I took this as an example of how a crazy Lithuanian Director tells you to do something. I mean, how was this possible? I can move one way, or the other, not both! After a little more conversation with him, I realized what he wanted. He wanted the movement to be physically slow, and the thought process to be very fast, like holding a team of horses back from running. When I started trying that, he would yell out "YES! THAT IS WHAT I AM LOOKING FOR!"
Very often I find myself telling this story as a great example to being able to do two things that I thought were incongruent. In my mind, I couldn't do both - it was impossible. I was limiting what I thought I could do, and what I was needing to do to make the play work. I had been stuck in an 'either / or' style of linear thinking, and was unable to find a win-win solution. The possibility of doing both things simultaneously was alien to me, and so it could never be a solution.
So when you find yourself in an 'either / or' decision process, ask yourself the question: "Can I do both?" Maybe unlocking the linear thinking can be a key to a new innovative solution.