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Improv holds the key to unlocking innovation; An essay from William Childs

Improvisational theatre holds the key to unlocking innovation.

Leaders can often get lost in the maze when it comes to discovering new techniques or processes to help their businesses become more innovative. While improvisational theatre is not new, using its principles to train workers to become more creative is, and it holds a vital key to innovation. Improv is not only a thrilling form of entertainment, but it’s also known for its ability to help foster collaboration, improve creativity and increase overall communication within an organization.  The skills needed to do improv on the stage are the same ones that can help us succeed in the workplace.

Dan Maher has witnessed the power improv can have on a person’s life. Dan’s an improviser, writer, director, and creator of the improv class curriculum at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem, PA. He’s studied improv at the famed ‘Upright Citizens Brigade,’ an American improvisational theatre and training center in New York City, founded by Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Matt Walsh, and Amy Poehler.

Poehler, who began her improv studies at Chicago’s Second City and ImprovOlympic in the early 1990s, before Co-founding the Upright Citizens Brigade said this, “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time them, and it will change your life.”

Companies have become more open to the idea of fostering creativity, but they still struggle how to implement the necessary training to get the most from those initiatives.  It takes consistent effort across all departments, as well as strong leadership. Learning how to improv helps foster trust, encourages risk, and sets up the conditions for people to seek common ground when working together.  It doesn’t matter if you are performing in front of a theatre audience or presenting to a new client. The ability to improv in both those scenarios is omnipresent.

One of the most significant tenets of improv is known as “Yes, and…” It works like this; no matter what your improv partner presents to you, instead of negating it, or disagreeing with it, your job is to say, “Yes, and…” That’s what helps drive the idea and the collaboration within a scene. You take what your partner presents, and you add to it. They, in turn, do the same thing back to you.  That simple, yet effective approach should be a staple in every meeting in every company in America. The courage to take a co-worker’s thought or idea and apply “yes, and… to it and see where it leads.

“Improv is an art form that doesn’t work without risk.  Because for it to work properly, you have to trust those you’re performing with to construct the scene.” Maher added.

Viola Spolin, was an accomplished actress, educator, director, and author, considered the industries first pioneer of improv, created something called’ Theater Games’ – a system of actor training that used games she devised to teach the formal rules of the theater, said this, “Play touches and stimulates vitality, awakening the whole person – mind, body, intelligence and creativity.  The techniques of the theater are the techniques of communication.”

Maher agrees and adds,  “Improv helps me stay in touch with my creativity. It helps me make sense of the chaos and encourages my sense of play, which I think is missing in a lot of people’s lives.  What’s important to me is the pursuit of the craft. I want to do this thing well, and I want to share it with others, and if I can do that for the rest of my life, I know I’ll be happy.”


THE AUTHOR: WILLIAM CHILDS | Creative Director | Brand Storyteller | Columnist | Optimist
Bill is an accomplished creative leader with a history of delivering award-winning campaigns for a variety of businesses. Relentlessly dedicated to the skillful and creative translation of strategic business objectives, he’s known as a collaborative mentor and champion of fearless creativity. With a career spanning three decades, Childs knows how to take an acceptable idea and turn it into an exceptional one. His reputation of setting high creative standards while helping to create a culture of genuine collaboration and engagement is one of things he’s most proud of across his career. Recognizing and mentoring talent, and building high-performing, cohesive teams is one of his passions. Email. Website. Twitter. LinkedIn.

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