"Through improvisation you can create and establish an innovative corporate culture."
When Bruce and Gail Montgomery talk about how improvisation, or improv, helps foster innovation, they point to a group study of 1,600 people who were tested on how many ideas they could generate in a period of time. One group scored in the genius category: kindergartners. The reason? Kindergartners do not have the same boundaries that adults have since we are limited by our experiences. Through Brain Disruption: Radical Innovation in Business through Improv, the authors show that we need to allow our brains to let go of restrictions so creativity can emerge. While our individual history and knowledge has a place – since it makes us feel safe – our past does not help us open up to receive or generate new ideas. The authors ask “what can we do to disrupt the rigid and natural order of our thinking so that we can come up with radical new ideas?” The answer is improvisation.
The book offers a number of helpful exercises, and supporting research and articles, to show how improvisation is a powerful business tool. Individuals and teams can practice the tools and techniques of improv to develop their creativity muscle – in a similar way to physical exercise. Improvisation is exercise for the brain. Improv encourages creation “in the moment” and invites people to say “yes” to new ideas without the “baggage of knowing the end game.” While the executive judge in our brain tells us change can be painful, and the fear of failure and risk holds us back from imagining a different path, improv breaks this pattern so new ideas flow. The authors emphasize that “brain disruption” is not an event. Rather, “it requires discipline, focus, and practice to free the limitations set by how we think – how our brain stores data, interprets experiences, and habituates our behavior.” The power of improv is in how it expands one and creates an opportunity for broader, more flexible thinking and collaboration.
As a business person who is also an improviser, I agree that improvisational techniques open a person to innovation and are a worthy addition to a person’s set of tools. When people hear the word improv they might think of a famous comedian or stand-up performance. Really, improvisation is more of a team skill. Improvisation enhances creativity and develops trust between team members and throughout an organization. Imagine an environment supporting brainstorming, applauding risk taking, and understanding the importance of fun and laughter to team creation. Improvisation is critical to the success of any team and can make a team great.
So, how do you apply the practice of improvisation to your business environment?
The Big Idea
"Improvisation is the act of spontaneous creation."
Bruce and Gail present a framework for learning improv through the foundation of saying “Yes, and…” which is the core of improvisational practice. As they point out, “the possibilities stop as soon as you say ‘No.’ Creativity and innovation are all about possibility.” The idea is that you say “Yes” to an offer that is given to you and then you add something to this offer. The act of saying “Yes” and adding to an idea fosters collaboration and trust. The authors introduce the four rules of improv, which are:
- Yes, and…
- Support your teammates AT ALL Costs
- Trust your instincts
Through a research study conducted at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, the authors reveal that when people hear the word “No,” the area in the brain that controls anger lights up. There are neurological consequences to working in an environment where “No” is the expected outcome. The importance of supporting ideas and saying “Yes, and…” leads to greater productivity, creativity, and happiness in the workplace.
So, how can you employ the rules of improv to develop creativity in your team?
Disrupt the Judge in Your Brain
"Improvisation is a powerful business tool that dynamically alters behaviors and the brain."
Through the use of improvisation you can advance and maintain an innovative corporate culture where any person in an organization is encouraged to grow a new idea. Bruce and Gail show, convincingly, that disrupting the “judge” in the brain promotes a shift in thinking.
As the authors say, “great leaders want their people to take risks – even if failure is an outcome.” A point to remember is that risk leads to creativity and original ideas. The more ideas you have the more creativity develops, leading to better solutions. Improv helps you flex that muscle in your brain that opens to potentiality. At the same time, proving the value of adding improvisation to a company’s approach to impacting change is also essential.
How can companies and organizations understand the value of improv and encourage change in their culture?
Creativity Leads to Company Growth
"Companies that foster creativity achieve exceptional growth over their peers."
The “creative dividend” is real. One of the wonderful aspects of Brain Disruption is the wealth of research and studies provided to underscore the importance of developing creativity in the workplace. One main study was conducted by Forrester Consulting, a respected and influential research-based consulting group, who surveyed senior management from numerous companies. They uncovered groundbreaking results in favour of creativity such as:
- Companies that foster creativity achieve exceptional growth over their peers
- Creative companies enjoy greater market share and competitive leadership (by a factor of 3 to 1!)
- Creative companies win more “great places to work” awards (leading to higher retention rates and employee satisfaction)
You can download the study here.
The gift of improvisation has influenced my life – both personally and professionally – for many years. I can attest to the fact that learning the skills and practice of improv will make a positive difference in all areas of your life. Learning to apply “Yes, and” as a way of life, and “disrupting your brain” so that more ideas can move freely will add creativity to your life, and your workplace. Suddenly, the acceptance of all kinds of other opinions – outside your own way of thinking – broadens your potentiality. Yes, and, you will also experience more happiness!
How do you plan to make improvisation a part of your organization’s culture?