Using the tools of Improvisation
to run your business.
Presented by Kristy Oliver,
Atlanta Improv Events
Misconceptions About Improv
• Improvisation is comedy
– Improv IS what happens when you live in the moment.
• People who do improv must be funny
– People who do improv , connect, listen, agree and add.
• Improv is not for everyone
– Improv IS for anyone, we do it everyday, all of us.
It can be difficult for those in business to wrap their mind around
improv. The business mind wants to have all the answers and think
about the future. Improvisers don’t dwell on the future. They focus on
the right now. If you focus on what’s in front of you right now,
the future will take care of itself. This concept is very difficult
for the business mind to grasp.
I began studying and performing improv in Atlanta in 2000. Having
worked in corporate sales for over a decade, I began to see the benefits of my
improv training in the workplace. As a sales professional it helped me make
more meaningful connections, to be a better listener, build trust, think on my
feet, be creative and handle uncertainty. I launched Atlanta Improv
Events in 2010, infusing my passion for improv with my experience in
corporate sales offering training and education to companies.
In traditional corporate environments, companies are not
paying enough attention to their most important asset, their people. My
theory is that improv in the workplace embodies everything people need to
be happy, productive and successful. What company doesn’t want this?
History of improv?
• Modern Improvisation is an art form that started
in Chicago in 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Viola Spolin
started what became known as the famous
Second City in Chicago, and is known as one of
the original training schools for improv. Among
the talent coming out of Second City Improv
Improv as a tool for life and business
If you study improv, it becomes clear that the same principles that you use on stage can be
applied to your everyday life. Stephen Colbert said in a college commencement speech,
“Well, you are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea
what's going to happen, often with people and places you have never seen before. And you
are not in control. So say "yes." And if you're lucky, you'll find people who will say "yes“
And Tina Fey talks about the rules for improv in the workplace in her book, Bossypants.
TINA FEY’S RULES FOR IMPROV…AND THE WORKPLACE
Rule #1 — Agree
Rule #2 — Not Only Say Yes… Say Yes And
Rule #3 — Make Statements
Rule #4 — There Are No Mistakes… Only Opportunities
Read more at http://women2.com/tina-feys-rules-for-improv-and-your-
Improvising in the work place
From Tina Fey’s Bossypants,
“There are no mistakes, only opportunities, which doesn’t mean that things can’t go
wrong, but that it’s your job to make the best of the situation you find yourself in.
…. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the
world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at
the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox.”
• In corporate environments, people are most often afraid to fail. Making a mistake is usually
not encouraged. However, in Improv we are taught to take a risk, fail, and find something
amazing in the process. Some of the world’s most amazing discoveries were mistakes....
– Penecillin-one of the most famous and fortunate accidents of the 20th century
– Post-it Notes
– The Slinky
– Coke-Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton was trying to make a cure for headaches. He
mixed together a bunch of ingredients , and Coca-Cola was born.
Patricia Ryan Madson, author of “Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up”
“We’re all creators given the conditions and permission to do so,
“All too often, there are corporate cultures that say: ‘Be creative, but don’t
make any mistakes.’ Improv opens doors to doing things a different way.”
The Corporate Culture of No!
In a recent article that was published in Psychology Today, it was found that the word
“no” can have a distinct impact on our ability to reason, communicate, and think logically.
How does the Yes, And rule apply in the workplace? Corporate cultures can be very
competitive. A competitive workplace can create a culture where everyone is looking out
for themselves. When people are shooting down other’s ideas and managers are not
listening to their employees because they are afraid of change, ideas that could develop
into something amazing are left to die and employees are often miserable.
If companies use the improv rule of “Yes, And”... they open the door to ideas that would
normally get ignored and missed altogether.
Keith Johnstone, one of the big idea men in the world of improv, is often quoted in regards
“There are people who say ‘yes’, and there are people who say ‘no’. The people who say
‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have, and the people who say ‘no’ are rewarded
by the security they attain.”
Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre-Keith Johnstone
Basic Improv Tools
• Be “In the Moment”
• Agree and Add (Yes, And...)
• Move forward, always be progressing
• Accept all ideas, don’t judge.
• Fail, and feature it
• Don’t think, just do
• Be Courageous and Authentic
When companies lack Trust,
Confidence and Innovation...
• “When we are authentic, we aren't afraid to share with
others what we are feeling and thinking. This invites
them into the conversation and encourages them to
help us solve the problem. However, when we refuse
to be authentic (after all, authenticity requires
vulnerability), we attempt to present ourselves as
perfectly perfect. By doing so, we not only shut down a
bigger conversation but we come across as a rigid
politician. No one trusts a rigid politician.“
Source: Brandon Smith via http://www.huffingtonpost.com/randy-hain/tackling-the-
Great Companies Get It!
What do Spanx Founder, Sara Blakely and Twitter CEO
Dick Costello have in common?
Both did stand up comedy and studied improv.
• Twitter CEO, Dick Costello has been very vocal about
running his company and culture like an improv group
When you apply basic improv
techniques to business...
• Heightening communication skills
– making is about the other person
– increased idea sharing
Press on Improv in Business
7/17/2013 “Tackling the Dysfunctional Workplace” Randy Hain, Huffington Post
• “So often businesses focus on the bottom line or sales growth, but don't do the
things necessary to keep the employees--who are the backbone of the
organization--happy, fulfilled and engaged.”
March 2, 2008, from The New York Times, Janet Rae-Dupree, “Can Executives Learn
to Ignore the Script?”
– “Tension melts away. Competition takes a back seat. And new ideas miraculously start to
– “Not to say every business brainstorming should turn into a stand-up comedy skit. But the
openness and playfulness that characterize improvisational acting can create a sense of
cooperation and affirmation that is foreign is highly competitive workplaces.” Practicing this in
the workplace will allow ideas to flourish, and brilliant ones at that.
– “Creating a culture of, Yes”. “The improv idea of saying yes from the start, allows business folks
to entertain things that would ordinarily get axed out.”
– Too often the business mind wants to play it safe, find the tried and true ways of solving
problems, but that can negate a fresh approach to viewing the situation.
– Corporate environments have a knack for keeping people from their more creative selves.
Improv teaches us to respond quickly, move forward, use what’s in front of you allowing the
creativity to flow.
• Brandon Smith is a leading expert in workplace health and dysfunction. He
is the founder of www.theworkplacetherapist.com
• Top 3 WP Dysfunctions:
– 1. Lack of courageous leadership - whether we are talking about making tough
decisions about the future or simply finding the courage to say 'I don't know,'
there has been an obvious lack of real courage in leadership today. This lack of
authentic courage is resulting in elevated levels of anxiety, uncertainty, fear
and indecisiveness across nearly all workplaces.
2. Lack of appreciation - from the entry-level employee to the senior manager,
very few of us are getting kudos, pats on the back or even the simple 'way to
go.' Personally and professionally, I have never seen appreciation at such an
all-time low. This has become so pervasive that I have yet to find an
organization that is not suffering from this easy-to-fix dysfunction.
3. Too much - Combine too much work, too many demands and too many
unrealistic expectations with too little boundaries and you've got a problem.
Thanks to our mobile technology people are working nearly nonstop
regardless of the time and place, threatening their mental, emotional and
relational health like never before."
Does it pay to play?
• When you look at outperforming companies like
Google, Zappos, Virgin, South West Airlines and
Mindvalley (Malaysia), there’s one thing they have in
common. They invite and promote playful behaviour of
their staff. Why? Because they know that playfulness is
the fastest way to create openness, connectedness,
collaboration and creativity; attributes that are needed
now more than ever to create innovative products and
memorable customer experiences. And their numbers
show that it pays off in profits.
Source: Annemarie Steen
Serious about Playfulness