Can We Co-Create Change?

Improv co-create change

Yes, And … It’s Actually More Lasting That Way

Change is hard. Anyone trying to break a habit or start a new one can testify to that. But talk about organizational change and watch entire teams lock arms and block any attempts to disrupt the status quo and the resistance is compounded tenfold, even when the group recognizes and knows that they need to change. Why is that?

It could be that we aren’t in the habit of considering alternate views and perspectives in our daily life. We tend to see and favor what we know. That carries over into business and is exacerbated when you add company history, groupthink, and “the way we’ve always done it.” We rationalize that we barely have time for ourselves. We might believe that we have an open mind and say all of the right things. But when push comes to shove, “us and ours” is what really matters. We defend it. The minds and ears shut. Any semblance of agility or willingness to change is jettisoned to protect our position. That’s to everyone’s detriment.

Stopping At What We Know Leaves Us Short of a Change Solution

We stop at what we know to be true because it has worked for us in the past—why go farther? We find one way and run with it.

Creative fields, and improv specifically, know that there is always more than one solution to any problem. When other views are seen, explored, and added to the solution, the results are always more diverse and inclusive. That makes them inherently stronger as well. What’s required is a quick way to help people search for and visualize alternative solutions and viewpoints.

See Things Differently Through Improv

Improv exercises are designed and created specifically to improve team mental and decision agility, increase trust and support, and enhance open communications. That’s what makes improv theater work on stage and what makes students of the art able to apply it effectively to everyday life, and especially business. You want examples you say? Here are just two specific exercises that come to mind and relate especially well to agility and change.

  1. Take that Back. Participants improvise a scene based on a suggestion. On a specified cue, bell, clap, command, the speaker must rewind and replace their last statement with something different and continue the scene from that new point. This forces the players to stay in the moment, get out of their head, and really listen for the next set up.
  2. Emo Op. Working in pairs, participants start a normal conversation. Once underway, the facilitator will suggest different emotions such as angry, sad, irritated, exuberant. The conversations continue, but now reflecting their new emotions. This teaches how perception impacts our communication, and how to deal with change.

While these might seem like small steps that could never bring change to a large organization, that’s where you would be wrong. Small steps, repeated over and over is exactly how big changes are made. That’s what gets the ball rolling. Institutional change requires communication, collaboration, and the ability to see other possibilities. That’s precisely what improv training provides.

Why Your Brainstorm Was Mired In Fog

Brainstorm mired by fog

Brainstorming sessions sound like a great idea. People imagine that they’ll get the best minds together, everyone will throw out great ideas, magic will be created, and they’ll arrive at newest, best-est idea ever as a team.

The fact is that this is almost never what happens. Instead, there is a lot of awkward staring in a silent room. Maybe the expected person will contribute some nonstarters,  someone else will ball-hog the air in the room, and another will play defense in support of their idea. The result is more of a wet blanket of fog rather than a downpour and flood of ideas. That’s not what anyone signed up for. And it’s not productive.

Improv Fuels Better Brainstorming Output

The principles of improv are ideal for brainstorming because they enable creation in the moment to further the ideas presented.  What many people fail to realize is that while the improv they’ve seen on stage might be created in the moment, there is a structure and principles that guide the creation. And practice. Lots of practice. Because the artists embrace the principles, they can run with it and make it look easy. Here are four thoughts from improv to be aware of before your next brainstorming session. They create a foundation for inclusion, awareness, and moving creative ideas forward.

This is our idea – Realize from the beginning that this is going to be our project, not your project. It’s “we,” not “I.” There’s a saying at the Second City, “bring a brick, not a cathedral.” That encourages participants that they need to bring an idea or thought, not a fully formed production. Allow space for the group to add their expertise and perspective to reach the best final product, or they’ll stop contributing.

Let go of the wheel – If you try to steer this thing you’ll wreck it. Improv and brainstorming sessions should have a natural flow. It will and should bump up against the edges of what’s acceptable and realistic. If it doesn’t, you and the team aren’t there yet. Trying to wrestle control will keep you from pushing ideas to where true inspiration and insight flourish. That’s not to say they can’t benefit from guidance, but trust the process. Give this horse his head to run.

Make it a safe place – Some of the ideas and paths are going to fail, but everyone has to overcome any fear associated with that fear.  You need the off-base crazy ideas as well—they just might be the catalyst that takes the idea a leap further and sets it apart. And they need to be presented and heard without judgment. Starting with the mindset, “what if this was a good idea—where would it go next?” and Yes, And-ing what comes next allows the team to explore it together without judgment.

Set the stage for success – Not considering the group dynamics and structure is one of the biggest barriers to success. No professional troop would throw a newbie onto the stage of the main act cold. It’s the same with your business team. When you’re teaching new skills, you break the process into smaller and manageable steps. For brainstorming that might require time in smaller groups and attention to the balance and make-up of the groups. Pushing associates out of their comfort zone is is key to getting the best ideas, but push too hard too soon and they’ll shut down and not contribute.

Improv A Better Brainstorm

The result of an improv-based brainstorm is that more people are included, invested in the project, and contributing. Employers get the full benefit of the creative minds they hired. Associates get to do what they enjoy most. And the number and quality of ideas will surpass by many factors of those created in meetings stuck in a brain fog without improv.

Improve Bad Conversations With Improv

Improv can minimize bad conversations

Bad conversations cost businesses untold dollars every year—how much are they costing you? How much of the verbalization in your last meeting was actually beneficial to the cause? Seventy percent?  Sixty percent? Lower? The odds are if you actually timed it, the number would be startling. (You could appropriate this website for your purposes and give it a whirl next meeting.)

The result of these bad conversations are stone walls, hurdles and no’s that make communications take forever.  Worse, they don’t lead to useful conclusions. Unfortunately, many of the culprits don’t even realize the effect that they’re having. Instead of working Yes, And that could move things to the next step, they throw out the stop-strips and slow things to a crawl. Here are some of the major offenders.

Real-time Fact Checker – This person stops every conversation to re-assert, “actually” that they know more or better than whoever is talking, usually interjecting a point that is not critical to the conversation. Example: Oscar from The Office.

Aggressive Agreer – What’s the problem, they agree, right? Wrong. This person one that agrees with what was said, but has to add their own, unnecessary point, becoming almost contrarians while agreeing. Example, you say. “The sky is blue.”They say, “It’s not as blue as it used to be.” That’s not the point.

Swirler Twirler – What if … this person could make up their mind? Your meeting would be a lot shorter and move from one point to another. The swirler twirler continuously restates opposing viewpoints “to make sure we covered all of the bases.” We did. And we did it again. And again.

HEAR WHAT I SAY!! – Bring the oxygen tanks because this person is going to use all of the air in the room and you’re going to know it. How? They’re never going to cede the floor. They’re going to talk until the time is up.

Say It Again, Sam – This person waits until the meeting has reached a conclusion, then restarts the meeting by repeating what was said previously as their own thoughts. Step, by step.

Silent Denier – Think that person that hasn’t added anything to the meeting isn’t listening? Wrong. They’re waiting until the meeting is over so that they can tell everyone privately how they disagree with everything that has transpired. But they’re not going to speak now.

Teach An Old ____________ New Tricks

But there’s hope. Improv techniques can shake these aspiring conversationalist into patterns that move things forward. How? It starts with “Yes, And.” Like any change in human behavior,  becoming aware of what is verbalized and what the intended audience hears and experiences is the first step. The exercises that are the basis for improv bring these out in a natural and non-threatening way with guidance from seasoned practitioners.

The results are that conversations continue to a conclusion quickly. This can enable groups to explore more ideas and discover if they’re viable or doomed to failure. By allowing for multiple iterations, organizations find the agility and transparency that are the keys to success.

Improv Exercises In Practice

Here are some examples of how improv exercises could Yes, And the bad conversationalist above into a more aware and others’ focused state.

The Real-time Fact Checker –  Exercise: Take that Back

Aggressive Agreer -Exercise: Follow the Follower

Swirler-Twirler –Exercise: String of Pearls

HEAR WHAT I SAY!! –  Exercise: Word at a Time Story

Say It Again, Sam – Exercise: Last Word Response

Silent Denier – Exercise: Thank You Statues

You can find instructions to these exercises as well as more examples and case studies in the excellent book, ” Yes, And” by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton.