Improvisation--the theatrical form where dialogue and action are made up on the spot--is suddenly all the rage. It seemed like many of my colleagues and clients lately are taking improv classes. So, I got curious. I wanted to know what improvisation offers to those of us who work in offices and board rooms rather than on stage. To my surprise, I discovered that improv does indeed have quite a bit to teach us:
1. You learn to own your power.
In improvisation, you learn to be who you are, to be bold, to challenge conventions, and to question the rules. When you understand what you have to offer and know how to bring it forward, you own your power. You know your purpose and you can act in a way that's deliberate, focused and grounded in your values.
2. You learn to embrace your fear.
Fear is an undeniable element of improv, especially when it's done in front of an audience. What if you flub a scene, or freeze up, or can't keep up with the group? You have to learn to use those fears to fuel your performance, knowing that everyone gets it wrong sometimes. And it's the same in leadership and business. Failure is part of every human enterprise and endeavor. Learning to embrace your fears helps you overcome them and learn to treat them as a conduit for greatness.
3. You develop better listening skills.
Improv is all about listening. In fact, listening is a key skill for all actors, allowing them to work off each other. In today's busy world it can be hard to shut out the noise and be aware of the present moment, whether you're in the workplace or on stage. Listening skills help you silence the noise of your own thoughts so you can hear and be present with another--and improvisation helps you build those skills in a creative and innovative way.
4. You learn the value of collaboration.
Both acting and business require collaborative skills. In both fields a well-rounded team is composed of people with differing abilities, personalities and life experiences, working together and having each other's respect and attention. Understanding each member's strengths and weaknesses is crucial when it comes to keeping your team effective and happy.
5. You learn to adapt and be agile.
Improv requires flexibility and agility--when something isn't working, the actors often have to change things up on the fly. In acting, you learn that change is just another part of the process of getting it right. In business, implementing even positive change can be challenging. But when leaders know how to communicate they know how to address their people in a way that empowers and includes them, bringing them along and making them feel they are part of something bigger than themselves.
6. You learn to build a great ensemble troupe.
A great ensemble is key to successful improvisation. And the same, of course, is true for business and leadership. On stage, each team member has a part to play and a role to execute. If you can make each person on your team feel important and purposeful, you'll have a team with nothing but stars.
7. You learn the importance of creativity and discovery.
Improvisation is about discovery and creativity on stage, and the best teams in every field are equally fueled by discovery and creativity (along with hard work). Team discoveries create innovation and strengthened brands.
8. You learn to lead--and to follow.
When an improv troupe is on stage, roles change and adapt seamlessly. The person who is leading one moment is following the next. True leadership is about that same ebb and flow. Sometimes a leader leads with vision and goals, other times they follow the ideas and innovation. You have to know how to follow and lead at the same time.
Even if you never quit your day job, the skills you can learn from improv can benefit you in leadership and business. Whether you take a class or just pay more attention the next time your favorite improv group is playing, watch and learn!