Finding Business Solutions in Improvisational Comedy!

04.22.13 | Posted in Guest Blog

This week our guest blogger is Stacey Mason who resides in Arkansas. Stacey and I share several of the same passions, one of which is that we are both certified Birkman Method consultants. In fact, that is where we met; at the last Birkman Users Group conference in Houston last February. Both of us have also worked with universities in teaching students about leadership; Stacey at the University of Arkansas and me at LSU. Her significant distinction and something that is really gaining traction is that she has incorporated improvisational comedy into her leadership consulting and executive coaching practice. I know you will enjoy her guest blog as much as I did! And, heeeeeeeeeere’s Stacey!

“Every act of communication is, in some way, an act of translation.”  Author and translator Gregory Rabassa offers this insight, as shared by comedian Chris Bliss is his recent talk titled Comedy is Translation.

Improvisational comedy offers the ultimate platform for translating unpredictable input into scenes, persona, perspective, and emotion.   It’s a playground for the mind, body, and soul.  It’s about a different way of seeing, being in, and translating the world – including the world of work.

And improvisational comedy isn’t just for the clichéd extroverted funny-people.  In fact, the introverted quiet-thinkers will surprise you in astonishing ways.  I think comedy transcends as it translates, which is perhaps why so many companies are merging this art form with business thinking.

In the world of improv, there are three core rules:

Rule 1Yes, and  Yes, and… means that you accept whatever is offered to you.  Character, location, story line – it doesn’t matter.  Your response is Yes, and… then you simply add to what you are given.

Rule 2Pay attention, listen, stay in the moment!  You can’t plan anything.  You can’t control anything.  You just have to see where the scene leads you.  And the best way to do that is by listening to what you are given.  Focus on what you are offered, not on what you want to say.

Rule 3Trust.  You have to believe in yourself, in your partner, and in the scene.  Trust that something magical will come to you when you need it.  Trust that your scene partner will set you up for success.

Applying these rules in the business world brings many benefits.  Improvisational techniques help you:

  • Find your unique voice.  It’s the perfect place to practice being who you’re not, so you can figure out who you are.  You have permission to try on a plethora of personas in a safe setting.  I guarantee you will gravitate toward who you are, or who you’re meant to be.  Maybe your gift is sarcasm, or you radiate pure happiness – find out where you add value and do more of that.
  • Create executive presence Being confident and comfortable on the business stage takes deliberate practice.  Executive presence is as much about finding your voice as it is about how you use it.   It’s about how you engage with others, how you invoke emotion, how you show authenticity.
  • Share compelling stories.  Storytelling is a nuanced art.  It’s the packaged content of voice and executive presence.  And it is quite possibly the center of the human experience.  That is why organizations all over the world look to storytelling as the most promising tool for sustaining organizational culture.
  • Increase divergent problem solving skills.  As the scene develops, and you have no idea what you will do next, you become much better at divergent problem solving (when there are multiple right answers).  Often times in business we get stuck looking for the one answer, when in fact there are several best answers.
  • Drive creativity and innovation.   Innovation does best in environments where ideas simply flow.  There are moments of absolute brilliance that you stumble upon while you’re busy “making theater out of thin air”.  Embrace serendipity.
  • Understand exposure to risk You basically have a free pass to mess up and nobody will care; it just doesn’t matter.  The pressure is removed if we don’t feel we can fail.  Error is endlessly diversified.
  • Maintain a sense of humor.  Let’s face it, life is serious, business is serious, and the whole world is serious.  It can be overwhelming.  We need to embrace a sense of humor in order to balance out all of life’s seriousness.  I think maybe it’s ok to be hysterically funny every now and then.  And just to prove this point, I pulled four cards at random from “The Storymatic” (a tool I use when facilitating Improve Thru Improv workshops).  Our character is a slowpoke video game tester, and our story line is a 3am phone call about a box of kittens.  I think we can have some fun with that!

Chris Bliss ends his TED-talk with a challenge:  “take a little time each day to practice thinking funny…because you might just find the question that you’ve been looking for.”

How are you translating your world…?

Ancora Imparo –





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