Using improvisation as a tool for creativity and communication in the workplace
We all pretty much improvise quite a bit throughout the day – we think off the top of our heads, we chat on the phone, we joke with fellow-office workers and later with mates at the pub, we tell porkies or stretch the truth, we play with our children, we brainstorm with colleagues, we dream about our holidays and plot revenge against people we dislike.
There are countless activities that we all do that are not pre-planned: we don’t even think that we’re improvising because we’re so used to doing things in the moment that it doesn’t occur to us just how creative we are being.
And that’s what improvisation is: being creative in the moment, using whatever tools we have at our disposal and ‘going with the flow’.
In a way you could call all of that unconscious improvisation, the stuff we do everyday without thinking about it.
What if we began using improv in a conscious way; where we used some of the ‘basics’ from the world of theatrical improvisation to improve communication and creativity? And how would we do that?
Recently we held an improv day at Impact Factory led by Maria Peters to explore this very issue – how to incorporate improvisation techniques into our training even more than we already do. No, we didn’t do an Impact Factory version of Who’s Line is it Anyway?, that very popular improv telly programme from a few years ago.
It was a rollicking, rather hysterical day and by the end of it we came up with a long list of how to bring training and improve closer together. For instance, we spent a goodly amount of time looking at brainstorming, a ubiquitous tool used from boardrooms to breakfast rooms to tease out people’s creativity and find solutions to problems or generate new ideas.
The game we played demonstrated how even with a roomful of incredibly creative, no holds barred people (us!!), there are usually unspoken restrictions put on brainstorming in the name of arriving at a usable solution or idea.
By using a ‘let’s-throw-out-the-rules’ improv approach the sky wasn’t the limit, the galaxy was and the excitement and noise we created, even working in small groups, not to mention the ideas we came up with, opened up loads of new possibilities of what we else we can do on our own courses.
That long list at the end of the day didn’t just include new exercises, games and processes but encompassed the greater impact of improvement:
working with your colleagues more effectively by making them look good;
building on someone else’s ideas rather than saying why they won’t work;
going ‘off piste’ and not sticking to your original plan if it isn’t working;
allowing yourself to fail magnificently rather than always trying to get it right;
committing to some form of action rather than dithering or waiting to find the right thing to do;
listening more than talking!
What I personally took away was that we already do a lot of this in our work at Impact Factory which is why it’s such a creative place to work - we could do even more. We really like to play – we could do even more. We all have untapped depths of imagination and ingenuity – we need to plumb those depths even more.