The Improvisation Edge


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In The Improvisation Edge, author Karen Hough provides a guide for applying the intrinsic collaborative skills and behaviors of theatrical improvisers to increase innovation and efficiencies and to build trust within an organization. Four secrets of improvisation are presented that organizations can apply to build collaboration and trust in the workplace: 1) cultivate a positive atmosphere by creating Yes! Space; 2) encourage the growth of ideas with Building Blocks; 3) promote sharing and Team Equity; and 4) view surprises and mistakes as opportunities for innovation with Oops to Eureka! These four secrets are aimed toward trainers and managers looking to establish trust and build teamwork among their employees.


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The Improvisation Edge

  1. 2. THE IMPROVISATION EDGE Secrets To Building Trust and Radical Collaboration At Work AUTHORS: Karen Hough PUBLISHER: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. DATE OF PUBLICATION: 2011 165 pages
  2. 3. FEATURES OF THE BOOK In The Improvisation Edge, Karen Hough, a professional actress turned trainer and consultant, provides an innovative, easy-to-use guide for applying the secrets of theatrical improvisers at work. Improv troupes build performances from nothing but trust and collaboration, and Hough demystifies their secrets for trainers and managers looking to establish trust and build teamwork among employees.
  3. 4. THE BIG IDEA In The Improvisation Edge , author Karen Hough provides four secrets of professional improvisers that can help organizations build collaboration and trust in the workplace
  4. 5. INTRODUCTION In The Improvisation Edge , author Karen Hough provides a guide for applying the intrinsic collaborative skills and behaviors of theatrical improvisers to increase innovation and efficiencies and to build trust within an organization. In addition to being a professional actress turned trainer and consultant, Hough draws on twenty years of theatrical improvisation experience to teach trust-building and collaboration techniques in the workplace.
  5. 6. YES! SPACE <ul><li>Yes! Space is an improvisational concept that refers to members of a troupe committing to a performance by first saying “yes.” Yes! Space consists of three parts: say yes, put the critic on hold, and make it public. </li></ul><ul><li>Say yes . Saying the word “yes” is foundational in establishing a collaborative atmosphere and trusting space; additionally, it brings the speaker into a world of possibilities. Positivity feels unnatural to humans, who must exert a concerted effort to avoid reacting negatively to situations. </li></ul>
  6. 7. YES! SPACE 2. Put the critic on hold : The second step in creating Yes! Space is encouraging people to silence the critic in their minds. Saying “no” is a natural defense mechanism that causes people to reject ideas that push their boundaries. However, the habit of reacting with “no” stifles creativity, innovation, and productivity. Workplace training and academia teach the importance of critical thinking; unfortunately, the intense focus on identifying problems results in a propensity to reject ideas, often hampering participation and collaboration.
  7. 8. YES! SPACE 3. Make it public : All people are capable of creating Yes! Space within themselves by reaffirming ideas with positive thoughts, accepting surprises openly, and silencing internal critics. However, Yes! Space is a fundamentally collaborative experience and the positive exchanges translate to an open, accepting, productive organization. Employees who work in organizations that value Yes! Space feel valued because they know their leaders and colleagues acknowledge and consider their ideas. Furthermore, the positive reinforcement they receive when they contribute encourages them to continue to contribute in the future.
  8. 9. BUILDING BLOCKS The Building Blocks process differs from brainstorming in that the ideas must grow from previously existing ideas so that participants construct a bigger idea from related concepts. Jump in and play : Saying “yes” validates an idea; following it with “and” commits the speaker to collaborating on the idea’s development. Hough also emphasizes the importance of “play,” a reinvigorating practice that invites discovery and creates a sense of renewal. When participants play along by reacting with “Yes, and…,” it opens opportunities for exploration, innovation, and personal growth.
  9. 10. BUILDING BLOCKS Shelve your ego : The success of the Building Blocks relies on the participants’ belief that teamwork is more productive than individual work. Responding with “Yes, and…” means the speaker is committing to exploring another’s idea instead of their own. Shelving your ego refers to the act of putting one’s ideas on hold in order to explore another’s.
  10. 11. BUILDING BLOCKS Bring a block : The final step in utilizing Building Blocks requires participants to actually bring a block to contribute to a collaborative effort. The block can be a small new idea or a more developed one; what matters most is that participants bring something .
  11. 12. TEAM EQUITY Team equity is the third secret of improvisation and another concept leaders and employees can apply in the workplace. Professional improvisers trust members of their troupe to validate their ideas and provide avenues for exploring them. Own it . In order to achieve goals, all team members must own it. It refers not only to desired outcomes, but also to the fellow team members responsible for achieving them. Members must diligently define and update their outcomes so they are working toward tangible goals.
  12. 13. TEAM EQUITY Equity, not equality means that all members of a team contribute in ways that complement each other, but not necessarily in equal proportions. However, a smaller role does not equate to an unimportant one. To illustrate this, Hough references Judi Dench, who won an Academy Award for her eight-minute performance in the film Shakespeare in Love .
  13. 14. TEAM EQUITY Tell it like it is refers to honest feedback, which Hough defines as a gift of insight to think about, utilize, or disregard. Feedback must always stem from good intentions for aiding improvement. Theatrical improvisers receive immediate feedback from the audience, which the actors use to adapt the performance. Performers also rely on director’s notes, which can help them tweak the performance in time for the next show.
  14. 15. OOPS TO EUREKA! The Oops to Eureka! concept demands that participants immediately confront mistakes and use them as opportunities for improvement. It consists of three parts: see it and say it, flip it, and use it. See it and say it entails improvisers acknowledging their mistakes on stage when they happen. Improvisers understand that ignoring mishaps only worsens the situation; instead, it is best to capitalize on the opportunities that theatrical blunders provide. At work, leaders and employees often ignore the proverbial “elephant in the room,” meaning issues that prevent focus and productivity.
  15. 16. OOPS TO EUREKA! Flipping it involves conditioning the brain to see an event as an opportunity instead of an issue. Flipping it additionally demands flexibility. While not every mistake translates into a fantastic opportunity, approaching problems with an improviser’s mentality can change the way a team deals with the unexpected. Adopting this opportunist mentality can transform a team’s confidence and improve its efficiency.
  16. 17. OOPS TO EUREKA! Using it means that participants must deal with mistakes immediately in order to capitalize on them. Improvisers see using it as a performance imperative; if a mistake goes unrecognized, rectifying or building from it soon becomes an irrelevant impossibility. In the workplace, managers and employees can learn from improvisers to become more flexible, aware team players who seize problems as opportunities.
  17. 18. OOPS TO EUREKA! <ul><li>Employees can apply Oops to Eureka! behaviors at work by: </li></ul><ul><li>Responding to the unexpected with “That’s funny.” </li></ul><ul><li>Considering how the unexpected event could produce a positive outcome. </li></ul><ul><li>Being proactive in taking advantage of opportunities that stem from Oops moments. </li></ul>
  18. 19. PRACTICE. THEN CELEBRATE! Many people are surprised to learn that improvisers are known in the theater industry as the most over-prepared performers. They practice by reacting in real-time, collaborating, and adapting, all of which result in immense group and personal trust. Because good improvisation relies upon collaboration, practiced behaviors, and sheer preparedness, actors must arrive onstage alert and ready to react to all possibilities in positive and innovative ways.
  19. 20. PRACTICE. THEN CELEBRATE! Outside of the performance industry, few professions require rehearsals, which are essential to achieving positive outcomes. Hough encourages readers to make a habit of utilizing the collaborative secrets of theatrical improvisers. Her company provides safe practice arenas and workshops, but explains that managers and employees can easily apply the same concepts by becoming aware of saying “yes” and reacting with positive collaborative behaviors.
  20. 21. PRACTICE. THEN CELEBRATE! Finally, improvisers celebrate everything : huge successes, small victories, even completing a rehearsal or performance. Rejoicing in everyday accomplishments keeps motivation and energy levels high among troupe members. Hogue encourages that leaders take time to celebrate with their employees, and to celebrate their own victories as well.
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