Skip to main content

How To Use Improv In Business


"It is a driving passion of mine to get people to understand that improv skills can be effectively translated into the business world with powerful results," says Bob Kulhan, veteran improv performer, university professor, and author of the fascinating new book, Getting To "Yes And": The Art of Business Improv.

And, "Nope, improv isn't just making stuff up," explains Kulhan. "Preparation and awareness are critical to successful improvisation."

He further explains that improvisation takes technique, training, practice, thoughtfulness and intelligence. "Improvisation at its most effective is a deliberate strategy that draws on intelligence in concert with instinct. And, in business, improvisation thrives at the pivotal intersection where planning and strategy meet execution."

Kulhan, who was trained in improv by notables including Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, also teaches you in his book the powerful difference between "Yes, and..." and "Yes, but..." 
  • "Yes, and..." is a technique that slows the brain down. It allows you to be present and in the moment and dramatically strengthens your ability to listen, focus, concentrate, and engage. It's also an indication that your're postponing judgment, fostering inclusivity and increasing adaptability, flow, and momentum. It facilitates conversation. This technique is one used effectively by the best improv professionals and Kulhan believes it's essential to succeeding in business.


Bob Kulhan

So, how do you start using improv? Whether you’re an individual navigating your career or a business leader facing a merger in an uncertain environment, strategies like these below will help you get started:

How to Start Using Improv at Work -- By: Bob Kulhan
  1. Cling to “Yes, And…” The cornerstone of all improvisation, “Yes” is unconditional acceptance and “And” is what you do with that which you accepted (i.e. how you react). This deceptively simple two-word phrase is an incredibly impressive multi-purpose tool for engaging other people and managing conflict (as opposed to the phrase “Yes, but,” which shuts people down). It’s also very effective for building connection and strong relationships with key stakeholders, like your coworkers (internal) and your customers (external).
  2. Develop an improvisor’s mindset to be an agent of change. Improvisers thrive in the unknown because the art of improv is rooted in adaptability. Embrace the problem solving, do-whatever-it-takes, entrepreneurial mindset that improvisation inherently provides by framing your way of thinking so that you intentionally look to explore the possibility and potential of an idea before you judge that it won’t work.
  3. Warm up to change your energy and attitude. Improvisers warm up before everything because we understand that (unlike the weather) our energy and attitude are choices, which can easily be adjusted to influence the people around us. Move around before your next meeting, phone call, or presentation—pace, jump, or shake your limbs a bit, to get blood pumping more quickly throughout your body and increase the amount of oxygen to your brain. Get energized and in “game state”—the right physical and mental place to influence those around you in a positive way.
  4. Communicate like you’re in an improv show. Improv is a communication-based art form that relies on intense listening. In everyday communication, most of us think about what we’re going to say next as opposed to being focused in the moment and reacting to what the other person actually says. Instead of directing that energy inward, to your thoughts, direct it outward—listen with your whole body, engaging the person talking with you, whether it’s a team member, vendor or client.
  5. Cultivate a culture of acceptance to collaborate the way improv groups do. Improv is a team sport; improvisers understand that the team as a whole is smarter than any one person in it. Set a collaboration up for success by defining the rule that—for a specific period of time (i.e. 10 minutes)—every idea brought to the table will be unconditionally accepted as an idea worth exploration and it is the team’s job to make sure that everyone in the meeting is engaged and participating fully.

Kulhan is President, CEO, and Founder of Business Improv, a consultancy that specializes in experiential learning and serves an international roster of blue-chip firms. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School. 

Thank you to the book publisher for sending me an advance copy of the book.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

REI Sets The Example For Creating And Living Core Values

Are you a leader who is struggling with how to write your company's core values? You can learn from Recreational Equipment Incorporated , better known as REI -- an outdoor gear and apparel co-op.  As described in Amy Lyman's new book, The Trustworthy Leader , REI concisely articulates its core values in this series of statements: Authenticity -- We are true to the outdoors. Quality -- We provide trustworthy products and services Service -- We serve others with expertise and enthusiasm. Respect -- We listen and learn form each other. Integrity -- We live by a code of rock-solid ethics, honesty, and decency. Balance -- We encourage each other to enjoy all aspects of life. "The words contained in the values are not much different from those found in the value statements of any organization. So what makes it different at REI?  The people at REI actively seek to live out their values ," explains Lyman.

Effective Listening: Do's And Don'ts

Here are some great tips from Michelle Tillis Lederman's book, The 11 Laws of Likability .  They are all about: what to do and what not to do to be a leader who's an effective listener : Do : Maintain eye contact Limit your talking Focus on the speaker Ask questions Manage your emotions Listen with your eyes and ears Listen for ideas and opportunities Remain open to the conversation Confirm understanding, paraphrase Give nonverbal messages that you are listening (nod, smile) Ignore distractions Don't : Interrupt Show signs of impatience Judge or argue mentally Multitask during a conversation Project your ideas Think about what to say next Have expectations or preconceived ideas Become defensive or assume you are being attacked Use condescending, aggressive, or closed body language Listen with biases or closed to new ideas Jump to conclusions or finish someone's sentences

Sample Of Solid Business Guiding Principles

I really like these  10 guiding business principles  that San Antonio, TX headquartered insurance company  USAA has lived by: Exceed customer expectations Live the Golden Rule (treat others with courtesy and respect) Be a leader Participate and contribute Pursue excellence Work as a team Share knowledge Keep it simple (make it easy for customers to do business with us and for us to work together) Listen and communicate Have fun Too many companies don't make it simple for their customers to do business with them. Is it easy for your customers to: Buy from you? Make returns? Get pricing and terms? Receive timely responses to their e-mails? Quickly get answers when phoning your company? You can find more examples of companies with impressive guiding principles in the book,  1001 Ways To Energize Employee s .

How To Show The Value Of Your Work

Today brings a new book and step-by-step guide for specialists, professionals, managers and independent contracts who want to achieve success in their work. Specifically, the book teaches how to demonstrate the value of your initiatives, using a simplified version of the ROI Methodology .  Patricia Pulliam Phillips and Jack J. Phillips , authors of the book, Show The Value Of What You Do ,  developed the ROI Methodology in the 1970s and refined it in the 1980s when their first book describing the process was published. The ROI Methodology was implemented globally in the 1990s and since then has become one of the most used evaluation systems in the world, as it is used routinely in more than 6,000 organizations in 70 countries.  This new book describes six easy steps to measure and improve the success of any project, program, initiative, or work that you do.  “Our goal is to help individuals and teams achieve and measure success and to shift the thinking about projects and work

How To Express Genuine Interest In Your Customers

Author  Steve Curtin , in his book,  Delight Your Customers , suggests you and your employees do these  12 things to express genuine interest in your customers : Offer personalized greetings Use names Practice assertive hospitality Ask questions Cosset Anticipate needs Remember preferences Pay attention to details Display a sense of urgency Solicit feedback Offer personal farewells Follow up on service

Key Takeaways For Leaders From The Book, All Are Welcome

Awhile back, I posted highlights and key takeaways from the book, All Are Welcome – HowTo Build A Real Workplace Culture Of Inclusion That Delivers Results , by Cynthia Owyoung . Upon recently browsing the book again, these additional takeaways came to light:  DEIB : Diversity in the workplace focuses on representation. Equity is giving people what they need to succeed. Inclusion is enabling full participation by everyone. Belonging is connecting people emotionally.  Onboarding employees tips for leaders : Get personally involved with the onboarding process on day one. This is your culture, and first impressions are huge . Assign an empathetic hiring buddy for each new hire. These are ambassadors of your company’s culture. Send a gift or a handwritten note to every new hire as soon as you make the job offer. This should come from the CEO or, at least, the hiring manager.  Ensuring your employees understand and believe in your company’s mission statement : Meet

How To Create And Live A Powerful Personal Brand

In her new book, Selling Yourself , Dr. Cindy McGovern shows you how to step-by-step create a powerful personal brand. Using her five-step strategy, you’ll learn how to build an impressive, authentic brand, live your brand and sell your brand.  “Whether your brand has created itself, you’ve outgrown your original brand, you’re ready for the next level, or you’ve changed your passion or purpose, this book is for you,” shares McGovern.  You’ll learn how to showcase your brand to expand your opportunities, establish trust, build deeper connections, have more confidence to ask for what you want, leave lasting impressions, and finally to express gratitude.  One of my favorite parts of the book is where McGovern includes this quote from Mahatma Gandhi :  Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.   Dr. Cindy McGovern 

6 Ways To Seek Feedback To Improve Your Performance In The Workplace

Getting feedback is an important way to improve performance at work. But sometimes, it can be hard to seek out, and even harder to hear.  “Feedback is all around you. Your job is to find it, both through asking directly and observing it,” says David L. Van Rooy, author of the new book,  Trajectory: 7 Career Strategies to Take You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be . As today's guest post, Van Rooy offers these  six tips for how to get the feedback you need to improve performance at work . Guest Post By David L. Van Rooy 1.       Don’t forget to as k :  One of the biggest mistakes people make is assuming things are going perfectly (until they make a catastrophic mistake). By not asking, you’re missing out on opportunities for deep feedback: the difficult, critical feedback that gives you constructive ways to improve. 2.       Make sure you listen :  Remember, getting feedback is about improving your performance, not turning it into a “you versus the

How To Lead Authentically In Today’s Workplace

Seven years ago, Bill George wrote True North , a favorite of mine. So, you can imagine how delighted I was to read George’s and Zach Clayton’s new book, True North, Emerging Leader Edition .  In this new book, the authors offer practical strategies and techniques to become an authentic leader and reveal how you can navigate your own path to success. The book is filled with dramatic stories of   how successful leaders overcame great challenges to build highly successful organizations.  These stories reflect more than 222 interviews with leaders–172 leaders interviewed for the original True North book, and more recently 55 interviews for the new book.  George and Clayton explain that their new book is a calling to emerging leaders of the next generations—Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z—to step up and lead authentically by discovering your True North.  And, what exactly is True North? “Your True North is the moral compass that guides your actions, derived from your most deeply he

Good Sample Business Principles

I really like these 10 guiding business principles that San Antonio, TX headquartered insurance company  USAA  lives by: Exceed customer expectations Live the Golden Rule (treat others with courtesy and respect) Be a leader Participate and contribute Pursue excellence Work as a team Share knowledge Keep it simple (make it easy for customers to do business with us and for us to work together) Listen and communicate Have fun Too many companies don't make it simple for their customers to do business with them.  Is it easy for your customers to: Buy from you? Make returns? Get pricing and terms? Receive timely responses to their e-mails? Quickly get answers when phoning your company? You can find more examples of companies with impressive guiding principles in the book, 1001 Ways To Energize Employees .