What’s at the heart of applied improv?


December 5th, 2011

This morning I tweeted an article that was shared on Facebook (no, this isn’t a post about social media). This one: Improvisation May Be the Key to Successfully Managing Change, says MIT It seemed to generate a lot of interest.

Applied improv gets me excited like nothing else. I think it’s important to take notice of such feelings and see where it leads. In this case, it’s led to me trying to work out why applied improv has this effect.

My work as a facilitator with groups falls into three broad categories:

  • planning, designing, clarifying what we do, and how we do it; what helps, and what hinders
  • something’s wrong and we’re not sure what – this often turns up as a request for team building
  • capacity building: we need to be better at creativity, innovation, responding, change, presentations,customer service etc

I’ll use a range of processes and tools, and they’ll differ in every workshops. I have a ‘kit bag’ full of activities, questions, processes, games, ideas etc, yet none of them are worth anything much without empathy for the people I’m working with. And while every workshop is different, what’s consistent is that the people in every workshop are living, breathing humans. Their circumstances may vary, their backgrounds, their languages and their culture. They still live and breathe and love, hurt and cry, the same as you and me.

Improvisation and spontaneity touch us all  - we are improvisational by nature, tapping into our emotions and feelings, our experiences, our stories, our relationships with ourselves and others, they way we behave. This is what I think is fundamentally at the heart of working with groups.

Yet we often block that part of ourselves, talking ourselves into being rational, focused, planned and in control. I’d love that as much as the next person. Trouble is, it’s a fantasy. Something always comes up. And we keep on going, we do what has to be done in whatever circumstances we find ourselves and with whatever resources we have. We improvise.

Rediscovering this natural approach to how we are is at the heart of why I’m excited about applied improv. Bringing improv back to schools and education, in government and policy making, in businesses that are thriving and those who are struggling, in the health sector, in humanitarian aid and on-line – in any industry or situation, we can do in life what improvisors do on the stage.

And what better stage is there than life?

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