Improvisation as a Powerful Intervention for Change and Innovation

January 26, 2017

I write on a topic you may find surprising.  Improvisation!  If you find this blog article too long, go directly to the video links at the end of the writing.


I start with a question, What do the following people have in common?


Tina Fey, Steve Carrel, Amy Poehler, Wayne Brady and generally the entire Saturday Night Live cast since the show began in 1979.  The answer is that they are incredibly creative, innovative and they all learned their skill through the art and play of improvisation. 


When used to enhance personal and team development, the concept of improvisation is referred to as Applied Improvisation. 


So what is Applied Improvisation?  Applied improvisation is the non-theatrical use of improvisation techniques.  The aim is not to teach people how to be improv performers; it’s to teach them how to apply the principles, skills and mindset so that they get better at leadership, teamwork, communication, trust, creativity, dealing with change and complexity and unpredictability… so that they and their companies, organizations, communities and societies are more successful.  When practiced, many of the activities are great fun and often bring many laughs.  Is it possible that we can increase our creativeness, our innovativeness by practicing some of the principle of these theater games? 


Well I can tell you that many of the top business schools in the United States (and elsewhere) say yes!  Courses in Applied Improvisation are now part of many graduate level curriculum in such schools as Duke University, University of North Carolina, Stanford University, Harvard University, MIT and the list goes on.   If you or one of your executives have had the opportunity to attend the Harvard GLC course, you would have experienced applied improvisation first hand.  Ashridge, as well, is using improvisation in our masters course. 


Articles have recently been published in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Fast Company magazine extolling the benefits of this type of training.  There is a long list of companies that have incorporated improvisation training into their developmental training offerings.  Such companies as, Alphabet (Google), General Electric, Eli Lilly, Merck, Microsoft, JPMorgan, Kaiser-Permanente, and the list goes on.


While the schools and companies I listed are based on the United States,  I can tell you that Applied Improvisation is popular all over the world, and is growing quickly as a focus of trainers, facilitators and even entertainers as a business related offering.  I belong to a global network of applied improvisers and can connect you to a professional trainer in your area if you would like. 


On a personal note, I have been practicing improvisation for many years and lead an applied improvisation group that meets on a regular basis.  I have incorporated the principles into my OD and Change work.   I believe strongly in the benefits and I believe they can have a direct application to the work we do in promoting innovation and behavioral change.  At the top of the list of benefits is the promotion of Trust and Collaboration.


There are articles that provide a long list of benefits.  Rather than repeat the list simply add creativity, risk taking, experimentation, deep listening and the already mentioned trust and collaboration.  


In fact, there are a couple of intervention designs that have proven very successful in teambuilding and culture change.


I provide a few links and references below and I encourage you to take a risk (pick the right time) and add improvisation to your intervention toolkit.  You can reach out to me directly for additional information. 


Thanks, Michael


Forbes Article: why-improv-training-is-great-business-training Article_why-top-companies-and-mba-programs-are-teaching-improv



Examples of Improvisation


Why The World Needs Improv 

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