Improv for business

Improv for Business--The Challenge of Finding The Yes

Most of our improv for business workshops have something to do with collaboration.  At its core, improv is a communication skillset that teaches and practices collaboration. The core skill of improv is “Yes, And….”  You may have heard of that.  It’s not quite in the drinking water, but it’s getting more common. In a nutshell, the “Yes” is accepting whatever your partner says or does.  The “And” is building on that. When both people are doing this, it’s deeply generative and collaborative. In doing actual improv, where there are no limitations or repercussions, it’s easy to “Yes, And”.  You can say Yes to anything, it’s play.

And then there’s Life.  Or Work.  With real people.  Where outcomes matter.  Where you have opinions.

Flashback a few years:  I’m teaching in the MBA program at USF, I’m on the phone with the two other professors co-teaching the class with me. We’re mid-stream, designing an improv exercise for the students to practice a concept around consulting. I’m not being a great collaborator. I’m pushing back, saying lots of “no’s” and generally driving my idea. After about three minutes of head-butting, one of the other professors says something like, “You really want this exercise to go well, don’t you?”

I stop in my bulldog tracks.  My whole body relaxes and I feel my breath return. I even laugh. The transformation was instant.   

He had found the “Yes.” 

That’s the trick.  With applied improv, we practice literally saying “Yes” to all offers.  In life and business, often the “Yes” is simply seeing your partner. We went on to collaboratively design a solid new applied improv exercise for the students.

So find the “Yes.” It can work wonders. Take it from me, an occasional bulldog.


"Improv training" on your resume? Yep!

In the current business environment a whole new set of skills is rising to the top.  Everyone knows this.  Change is happening faster, growth is exponential, and so on.  It’s not so much about what you know, but how you are. Can you collaborate?  Can you work within a team.?  Can you build a team?  Can you inspire?  Do you listen?  Can you foster creativity?  Can you deal with change?

Supposedly one time when Steve Jobs was asked his greatest accomplishment, he said that he had put together teams that could collaborate.

You may take issue with the nuts and bolts of my premise, but generally you know what I’m talking about.  Right?  Are we good?  Same page?  Common ground?  Other metaphor of agreement?
From a Harvard Business Review article on skills needed to thrive in the C-Suite, here are some skills/traits listed:

~Non authoritative leadership

~Inspirational leadership

~Team and Relationship building

            “…he/she cannot succeed as a brilliant one-person player.”

~The power of persuasion and excellent presentation skills

            “…mental deftness and stylistic versatility.”

~Change management

“…less to do with driving drastic firm-wide change than with being at ease with constant flux.”


These are not cognitive skills.  These come from a way of  being and are learned through practice.

Improv is showing up in more and more business schools here in the US and internationally.  I teach improv in the Executive MBA program at University of San Francisco.  It’s in Harvard, Duke, UCLA, Carnegie Mellon, MIT Sloan, Columbia, and so on.

The reason improv is showing up is that it addresses these new key skills.

Improv is a skill-set that makes it possible to create in-the-moment with other people.  When done skillfully, the story, song, play, or skit unfolds so seamlessly that it seems rehearsed. How do we do this, and how is it relevant to the new business skills?

Here’s what we do on stage, and imagine this in a business context:

~We focus on making our partner look really competent.

~We listen for where we can agree and connect.

~We put our egos on the shelf and focus on the thing we’re creating.

~We’re able do defer judgment/evaluation in order to explore and follow ideas.

~We have absolute trust that our fellow players have our backs.  Because they do.

Right now, there are a ton of newly minted MBA’s who have had this training.  A huge percentage of them found great value, and are leading in this way—with these skills and values. 

As they rise up the ranks, they’ll be looking to hire people with these skills.  And “Improv Training” on your resume might just be the way in the door.

Try it!