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Learning from Improv

September 19, 2012

My teenage daughter has joined her school improv team and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Having been in the “training biz” for nearly 20 years, and a consultant for more than 5, I’ve experienced first hand how important thinking on your feet can be. Heck, even in just regular organizational settings I see some tremendous benefits. I am pleased that my daughter is going to be learning these things, which can only really enhance her education and of course these are the formative years, so perhaps it’ll have long term effects beyond schooling.

After reading this post by Harold Jarche, and then seeing this one by Annie Murphy Paul, it looks like creativity continues to be an important topic in our schooling and organizations as well. I was inspired to blog and share some thoughts about improv. Here are the things that I like best:

  • Observation – one thing that my daughter has said is that they are students of non-verbal cues in improv, somehow they know who is going to jump into “the ring” by their body language. Those subtle cues are something that we all see, but some of us don’t pay attention to. In improv it’s a huge part of the language. The flip side is also true, they become aware of how they are communicating as a whole and are expressive with more than just words.
  • Courage – I love that improv rewards courage – you have to be willing to make a fool of yourself, but along the way you may uncover something very clever.
  • Teamwork – the improv teams come to trust and rely on each other and really work together. They also support each other emotionally, celebrate successes together and comeriserate less successful efforts too. One of the main goals is to make others look good.
  • Creativity – of course – this is the natural business connection – it teaches creativity and innovation, but I think it’s more than that. It teaches pattern recognition and iterative design. Improv’ers know that certain structures work and mash those up all the time.
  • Learning – this to me is at the heart of improv – it’s a living art, as I suppose any performance art is – and they are always learning, from watching each other, from trying new things, from feedback, from other domains, from failures, from other’s failures, etc.
  • It celebrates: Fun. funny. smart – I love that improv is like cerebral sports – for those of us who appreciate those kind of things. It is a facet of humanity that doesn’t get celebrated nearly as much as the physical (Olympics, professional sports, etc).

I see some really interesting aspects of improv for those in the learning business, too. If you are designing training, perhaps borrowing a page or two from the improv world could enhance your programs. In face-to-face training they can add a sense of adventure, but really teach much more than that. And these can be used in virtual training (webinars, web classrooms) as well.

For those who develop training strategies, there could be lots to learn from this site:

If you have ideas for how to inject elearning with some improv ideals, put them in the comments or tweet me @sparkandco, I’d love to hear them.

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