The Dance of Collaboration - excerpt from Improv to Improve your Business


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Rob Duncan chapter except from the book Improv to Improve your Business

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The Dance of Collaboration - excerpt from Improv to Improve your Business

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  2. 2. “There are peoplewho prefer to say ‘Yes,’ and there are peoplewho prefer to say ‘No.’Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by theadventures they have.” ~Keith Johnstone
  3. 3. CHAPTER 1: Benefits of Improvisationimprovise: [verb] create and perform spontaneously or without preparation from Latin improvisus ‘unforeseen,’ based on provisus, past participle of providere ‘make preparation for.’ The speed of business is increasing. The best plans inbusiness require creativity and flexibility to recognize newopportunities as markets shift. Are you keeping up? It is more important than ever for entrepreneurs,leaders and business professionals to implement innovativesolutions, engage employees and communicate effectivelywith customers. Dr. Robert Epstein, Harvard-trained researcher andprofessor and former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, is oneof the worlds leading experts on creativity and innovation.In a Psychology Today article, he says, “One way to acceleratethe flow of new ideas is by challenging yourself – that is, byputting yourself in difficult situations in which youre likelyto fail to some extent.” According to innovation consultant, Steve Shapiro, “Yourbig breakthroughs will come by looking outside your area ofexpertise, by making connections.” The principles of improvisation can help you make newconnections and navigate the challenges of businesses, 1
  4. 4. Improv to Improve Your Businessregardless of your position within an organization. Thestories and experiences collected in this book share how avariety of entrepreneurs and business leaders incorporateimprov into everyday business interactions to stimulatecreativity, nurture innovation and achieve more effectivecommunication. In gathering information for this book, this LinkedInquestion was posted: “Have you taken an improvisation class or workshop? If so, how do you incorporate the principles of improv into your business interactions?” Here are some of the ways respondents felt training inimprovisation has been of benefit to them: - Helps me think more quickly on my feet - Helps me deliver presentations more effectively - Helps me be more spontaneous - Helps me gain sensitivity to my audience - Helps create an environment of support with members of my team - Helps me seek win-win outcomes - Helps me think more creatively - Helps move an idea along with each team member contributing along the way - Helps me be more comfortable taking risks - Helps me creatively problem solve - Helps encourage better communication - Helps sharpen problem-solving skills - Helps me see change as opportunity - Helps me eliminate self-doubt and self-judgment 2
  5. 5. CHAPTER 1: Benefits of Improv - Gives me confidence and ability to quickly refocus and alter my message when a prospect has a different agenda than expected - Helps me organize thoughts more quickly and speak coherently off the cuff - Enhances critical thinking to quickly pull the most important piece of info from a group of details - Helps me listen, process quickly, respond - Helps me expand on points I want to make more easily - Helps me become comfortable with following my intuition - Helps me self-correct on the spot - Helps me read situations more accurately - Increases my confidence and charisma - Transforms the way I interact with others - Helps me interpret interpersonal dynamics more accurately - Reminds me to have fun and incorporate play into my day - Helps me focus on the task at hand, make fewer mistakes and increase productivity - Helps me switch gears easily when something unexpected happens - Helps encourages collaboration - Helps foster flexibility - Helps makes new connections - Helps generate new ideas The next chapter outlines the 10 COMMANDMENTS OFIMPROV. These are basic principles of improvisation that all 3
  6. 6. Improv to Improve Your Businessthe authors of this book used as common ground to describetheir improv experience. This particular list of ten commandmentswas created by Brent Brooks of Blank Stage Productions.Many of the authors in this book have been players at BlankStage as part of their improv training. This pdf contains the chapter from a single author. Youmay purchase the complete book on Amazon with chaptersfrom eight additional authors. In addition, the Amazon versionof the book contains comments from business professionalswho answered our LinkedIn question (and gave theirpermission to have their comments included in this book),along with a list of recommended books, blogs and improvgames. 4
  7. 7. CHAPTER 2: The 10 Commandments of Improv“The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust “When we live life as an experiment, we are far more willing to take risks,to acknowledge failure, to learn and develop.” ~ Peter Bregman 5
  8. 8. Improv to Improve Your Business COMMANDMENT ONE TRUST Let’s get started with our first commandment, trust. Apainter trusts his tools to execute his vision. An actor has totrust that his tools, which are the other actors on stage, willadhere to the fundamentals and basics of improvisation. Thedifference here is that a painter has control over his paintbrush,whereas an actor has no control over his fellow actors. This iswhy trust is essential in improv. An actor has to be able totrust the other actors on stage. “You can’t have success without trust.The word trust embodies almost everything you can strive for that will help you succeed.You tell me any human relationship that works without trust, whether it is a marriage or a friendship or a social interaction; in the long run, the same thing is true about business,especially businesses that deal with the public.” ~ Jim Burke 6
  9. 9. CHAPTER 2: The 10 Commandments of Improv COMMANDMENT TWO AGREE ON STAGE: DONT ARGUE The second commandment of improvisation is agreement,or the notion of agreeing on stage. Beginning players tendto disagree on stage – they think that conflict creates anentertaining scene. This is correct, but the execution iswrong. When you disagree or argue on stage you destroythe scene. All the audience sees is a power struggle betweentwo actors. Instead, agreement allows a scene to progressand makes the audience curious about what will happen next. “The more diverse the workplace, the more powerful the fuel for creativity. Instead of viewing differences as obstacles, we can acknowledge and accept them (say, ‘Yes!’ to them) and build on the ideas, perspectives and energy they provide.” ~Pamela Meyer 7
  10. 10. Improv to Improve Your Business COMMANDMENT THREE LISTEN The third commandment of improv is listening.Without listening, improv is pointless. The players in a sceneneed to respond to one another in order to move the sceneforward. "Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen are the ones we move toward. When we are listenedto, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand." ~ Karl A. Menninger 8
  11. 11. CHAPTER 2: The 10 Commandments of Improv COMMANDMENT FOUR DONT BE FUNNY The fourth commandment of improv is don’t be funny.Many people learning improv believe that they need to geton stage and automatically make the audience laugh. This isnot true. You dont want to TRY to be funny at all. Youdont want to force the audience to laugh. What you dowant to do is follow the 10 Commandments of Improv andas a result, the audience will automatically be entertained. “Life’s more amusing than we thought.“ ~Andrew Lang 9
  12. 12. Improv to Improve Your Business COMMANDMENT FIVE AVOID QUESTIONS The fifth commandment of improv is avoid questions.When you ask a question on stage, you force the other actorto come up with a new idea. This is a bad habit because youare forcing the other actor to create the scene on hisown. Instead, both actors should be participating andbuilding the scene together. “The nice thing about teamwork is that you always have others on your side.” ~Margaret Carty 10
  13. 13. CHAPTER 2: The 10 Commandments of Improv COMMANDMENT SIX BE AVERAGE: KEEP IT SIMPLE The sixth commandment of improv is be average, inother words just keep it simple. Don’t try to steal the scene,but at the same time dont fade away into the background.Every actor on stage holds an equal part in every scene. Noone person is more important. Think of improv as a teamsport. Nine times out of ten, it is a simple phrase or situationthat cracks the audience up. Long, drawn out lines andscenes become too complicated and you lose the attentionof the audience. “It is the essence of genius to make use of the simplest ideas.” ~ Charles Peguy 11
  14. 14. Improv to Improve Your Business COMMANDMENT SEVEN STAY IN THE MOMENT The seventh commandment of improv is stay in themoment. In improv, all that matters is the here and now.Don’t even think about what might happen next. Thisdistracts you and takes you out of the moment. Often actorspredetermine their characters, environment or situation.A scene can go in any direction at any moment, so it isimportant to keep an open mind and pay attention to whatis going on around you. It is also easy to predetermine whatreaction you will get from another actor. This is dangerousbecause if you don’t get the reaction you expected, youget stuck.“Life is about not knowing, having to change,taking the moment and making the best of it,without knowing what’s going to happen next.” ~Gilda Radner 12
  15. 15. CHAPTER 2: The 10 Commandments of Improv COMMANDMENT EIGHT MISTAKES ARE GOOD The eighth commandment of improv is mistakes aregood. Nine times out of ten, you are going to make mistakeson stage. You are going to forget a name, you are going tobe at a loss for words, you will bump into someone. Thecatch is knowing that making mistakes is a part of improv andshould be embraced. This should help take away any fear youhave about doing improv. “To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” ~ Joseph Chilton Pierce 13
  16. 16. Improv to Improve Your Business COMMANDMENT NINE MAKE THE OTHER PERSON LOOK GOOD The ninth commandment of improv is give gifts. What ismeant by this? Well, a gift can be a physical gift, but moreoften than not a gift is when an actor who is activelylistening and supporting the other actor provides them withsomething to expand upon what has already been createdon stage. A gift helps to further develop an idea, environment,or relationship. Here is an example. Say that player A lovesto garden and is planting some vegetables. Player B hasbeen paying attention to the scene and to help develop arelationship, gives player A some pumpkin seeds to plant inthe garden. As soon as you find something out about anothercharacter, give them a gift that supports their idea or trait. “No one can whistle a symphony. It takes an orchestra to play it.” ~H.E. Luccock 14
  17. 17. CHAPTER 2: The 10 Commandments of Improv COMMANDMENT TEN HAVE FUN The tenth commandment of improv is have fun. If yourenot having fun, then youre not doing improv. Yes, there areall the commandments and guidelines to improvisation, butthe spirit of improv is to have a good time. Get rid of anystress and anger and anxieties – let go of it all. And don’ttake improv too seriously. If you adhere to the first ninecommandments, there is no way that you won’t have agood time. “All work and no play doesn’t just make Jill and Jack dull, it kills the potential of discovery, mastery, and openness to change and flexibility and it hinders innovation and invention.” ~ Joline Godfrey 15
  18. 18. “Capital isn’t that important in business. Experience isn’t that important. You can get both of these things.What is important is ideas.” ~ Harvey Firestone 34
  19. 19. The Dance ofCHAPTER 5: Collaboration Rob Duncan, Great Capes Consulting “Ideas are like rabbits.You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soonyou have a dozen.” ~ John Steinbeck Improv is a dance of collaboration that takes the seed ofone person’s idea and builds it into an entire scene. In thebusiness world, the dance of collaboration can lead to aproduct, a business …or a thesis. I’ve just completed mydoctorate in business leadership with an emphasis on howbusinesses are using social networks for innovation with helpfrom one of my on-line networks. I tapped my LinkedIn network to research and test mypremise that on-line networks were supporting innovation.I’m directly connected to over 6000 people, which indirectlyconnects me to about 17 million people also on LinkedIn.I’m fascinated by how communities of people can be connectedwho normally wouldnt meet. A CEO might meet someonewho works in the mailroom in a different location. Or businessprofessionals, who have thousands of miles between them,are able to connect just through the idea market on LinkedIn. My participation in this book is a perfect example of thisphenomenon. I responded to a question on LinkedIn that 35
  20. 20. Improv to Improve Your Businessco-author Vanessa Lowry had posted. She and I were noteven directly connected and now we’re collaborating on thisproject. Thats exactly the kind of phenomenon others sharedduring the course of my research. My thesis questioned if networks like LinkedIn areactually creating more communication inside and betweenorganizations, and if thats helping people becomemore innovative. The first part of my data was collected from answersto a survey taken by 500 respondents within my network.The second part of my research material was collected frominterviewing senior executives to get their perspective of howsocial networks have and will impact their business. The sizeof organizations that participated ranged from globalmega-companies to companies with only a few employees. I asked about things like peoples habits when they useLinkedIn, how many hours a week they spend on it, what dothey use it for, and more. I collected data on the fact thatpeople actually do use LinkedIn to become more innovativeand to help people solve problems. I started to see howpeople interacting in on-line communities was similar tohow players interact on the improv stage. My research showed that many people using on-linenetworks like LinkedIn are instinctively using improv principleslike TRUST, MAKE THE OTHER PERSON LOOK GOOD andHAVE FUN. Of the business professionals who participated in myresearch, 80% were open networkers, which by philosophymeans they will connect with just about anybody who seemsreasonable. This is an interesting parallel to improv as youmust TRUST enough to connect with people – both on stageand in the audience. Only after you trust can you can seepeople working together to expand ideas. That’s when thescene or the idea can take off. 36
  21. 21. CHAPTER 5: The Dance of Collaboration I discovered a range of motivations for why people areusing on-line social networks. According to my research, 8out of 10 professionals wanted to meet new people andmake new contacts. This reminded me of improv in the waythat its an adventure to connect with people who have adifferent perspective than yours. With LinkedIn and otheron-line networks, you are able to meet people from thousandsof miles away, working in diverse jobs, with their own uniqueperspective, and you may even become friends with them. About 60% of respondents said they use LinkedIn forexchanging ideas. This was higher than I thought it wouldbe. I thought people would be using it more for helpingthem prospect, but more than half were actually using it toexpand their bank of ideas. People definitely look to their networks for help andthey also like to help other people online. That was a verystrong finding with 8 out of 10 people agreeing with that. Further results showed that 6 in 10 agreed that theirnetworks help them innovate. And 7 in 10 said their net-works help them find new business opportunities. Over halfof the people agreed that their networks help them solveproblems faster. They are MAKING ONE ANOTHER LOOK GOOD. With a strong on-line network, you have easy access to agroup of people interested in exploring new ideas, findingnew opportunities, and collaborating on solutions. Thathooked into the improv part of me. At its best, thats whatyou do in improv with each person adding to an idea andgenerating something thats wildly funnier or more substantialthan you wouldve ever dreamed. The Q&A community on LinkedIn in particular wasinteresting to me. There are many people who go on everyday and try to help people. To me that exemplifies improv. Iparticipate regularly in the Q&A community and find it to beoverwhelmingly positive and cooperative. Those are necessary 37
  22. 22. Improv to Improve Your Businesscharacteristics for a successful improv session as well. I will often pop in to the Q&A community when I need abreak and want to shift gears mentally. Im a curious personby nature and I enjoy people. When Ive answered a question,I check back several times to see if anyone has reacted to myanswer, has a different answer and to see what direction theon-line conversation has taken. There is a commandment of improv that says AVOIDQUESTIONS. That seems like a paradox when I’m talkingabout the Q&A community on LinkedIn, but this is how I seethe two coming together. When youre on stage with otherimprov players, the reason to avoid questions is because itmight stop the action. It forces the other player to come upwith all the ideas, as opposed to making statements thatthey can easily build on. So in improv, if youre asking theother player a question, youre forcing them to do thecreative heavy lifting. The correlation with the Q&A community is that youshould add value for your part of the conversation. Forexample, don’t just post a link to a website, but take thetime to write out what information in the link pertains tothe question being asked. Its like helping a reporter outwith a query. They want you to answer their query (question)and not just send a link to a website that they then have tosift through. The other part of that is that since yourperspective is uniquely different from theirs, the ideasparked from your experiences will be different from theperson asking the initial question. That is where collaborationcan shine. One of the key improv principles is HAVE FUN. Morethan a third of respondents (37%) mentioned fun and thatthey participate in LinkedIn because they enjoy it. To be successful in your participation in on-line networks,you have to be forgiving and just laugh. Realize that people 38
  23. 23. CHAPTER 5: The Dance of Collaborationhave all kinds of different motivations for being there. It isamazing that all these people are taking time out of their dayto add a thought or to help someone out. Time is incrediblyvaluable and expertise is priceless. They’re taking time to helpout or add an opinion, so we should just take it easy. It is the same with improv. In a scene, players go frombeing on the bus, then they may get off the bus at the zooand suddenly they are helping a giraffe give birth. You justsuspend your vision of where you think things are going andrun with it. Thats where the hilarious stuff happens. Oneidea just gets wackier than the next and it is brilliant fun.The best mindset on stage or on-line is where you don’tcare where this is going, but see interaction as creative seedsfor innovation. One of the things becoming more apparent with socialnetworking is that executives at the top level of the companydont have control in the way they used to. I see companiesthat want to forbid anyone to use online social networking.That particularly drives me crazy because how do you thinkyoure going to stop them? Employees are going to be in therestroom on their iPhones twittering about you. My research confirms this. Your staff knows their peersand others in the companies that are your competition.They know your customers through online social networking.Theyre exchanging ideas. Smart companies want to harnessthe connectedness of the staff and not try to overly control it. The smart companies are the ones embracing socialmedia because they realize their employees are alreadyparticipating. They realize that folks who work for them areconnected to some amazing people and have remarkableinsights. They have guidelines for the right kinds of messages.They may have a policy outlining three things you must notsay and five things you can never talk about, like newproduct development. Beyond that, they encourage 39
  24. 24. Improv to Improve Your Businessemployees to go build relationships. They train employees to see that their on-line participationcan reflect well on the company and how they can each be amessenger of goodwill. Employees may also be the first tohear if a customer is unhappy about something that is beingdone or problems that are surfacing in a particular product. Some companies set a time limit of 20 minutes in themorning and 20 minutes in the afternoon for their employeesto connect with their networks while they are at work. Bysupporting and training their employees, the company canbuild good social capital with customers as well as withother organizations. Many organizations now have a socialmedia coordinator as part of their marketing department. The guidelines established by some companies justencourage people to adhere to the same guidelines ofbehavior as if they were at a dinner party. Basics of goodtaste like avoiding vulgarity and profanity. A CEO that I interviewed said he actually relies on thepersonal networks of his employees. He heads a smallsoftware development firm with innovative social mediaproducts. Whether they are looking for the right person tohire or just want to reach a particular type of consumer, thisleader checks in with his employees to see who they know.They can often go to their LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitternetworks and immediately pull that person up. It is aprogressive viewpoint for a CEO. In addition to on-line communities, I’ve use the principlesof improv extensively in my business roles off-line. I have two business lives. I have my own businesscalled Great Capes Consulting. I work with companies andorganizations, training them on how to build intelligentteams, how to use competitive intelligence to a companysadvantage and how to motivate people. I also do a lot ofpublic speaking from keynote addresses to workshops. I 40
  25. 25. CHAPTER 5: The Dance of Collaborationrecently conducted a two-day training session for one of theports here in Canada on the concept of competitive intelligence. My other business life is as Director of the Centre forApplied Research & Innovation at British Columbia Instituteof Technology (BCIT). I helped raise the necessary funds andset up this centre for research and innovation. We raisedabout 8 million in total funding from various sources. Primarily, we work with fledgling entrepreneurs who arejust starting out – who have an idea or an invention and wehelp them get it from the idea stage to the market place. We hold commercialization boot camps where weintroduce inventors to one other. Often they have beenworking solo for a long time. We put them into a team andprovide information and resources. Things like how they canprotect their inventions, how to do the right marketresearch so they can be sure theyre coming out with theright product and guide them on how to get a prototypemade. We also have a prototyping facility where we can actuallyhelp take a client from a concept to a protected piece ofintellectual property. Then we help them create a prototypeand hopefully assist in taking it to the marketplace. Both my consulting and director roles dovetail intoinnovation, collaboration and building networks. When I got into improv, I realized a lot of the improvphilosophies were things I did instinctively as a team builder,as a manager and definitely as a teacher. I think my favoritecommandment of improv is always say YES, and then buildingon what the other person just said. It was a great validationto see that “YES, AND” was actually a tool of improv used tocreate as a team. At the college, I manage a team of about ten peopleand always need to come up with new ideas. As the leader Iwant to build on every little idea. It ties into the concept of 41
  26. 26. Improv to Improve Your Business“YES, AND” in improv and the principle of MAKE THEOTHER PERSON LOOK GOOD. I want to give other peoplecredit. Even if I might have wanted the idea they ended upcoming up with in the first place, I dont lead with that. Ishare the challenge and the creative process with them. One benefit to being part of a teaching institution isthat the culture is about helping everybody become betterat something. As a teacher you dont say “Thats a dumbidea.” You say, “I see where youre going with that, butwould you also consider this?” Its a very supportive “YES,AND” type of improv thing. That runs counter to very traditional micromanaging,commanding kinds of cultures under which some businessesoperate. For leaders who are innate micromanagers, it ishard to release control to the group. It can be very scaryand, unfortunately, the most innovative ideas get stifled. The commandment DON’T BE FUNNY is key from animprov collaboration standpoint. In improv class, we used tosay you dont have to hit a homerun when it comes to you.Your contribution to the movement in a scene can besomething small like saying, “then she got on the bus.” Itstill can end up being an amazing improv scene. You donthave to have the last word. And there is no way you cancontrol everything. Have the intent of just adding somethingsmall, instead of feeling like you have to add something big.Adding your small contribution to the scene or the idea cangive other people space to engage their creativity and tobuild on it together. Theres so much pressure on managers to be the deciderand the person who knows best. I think DON’T BE FUNNY isalso saying that you dont always have to have the last word.Let things develop and let the ideas bounce around. That’s ahuge element for innovative ideas. Some of the meetings where my team accomplishes a lot 42
  27. 27. CHAPTER 5: The Dance of Collaborationare when I say almost nothing. My contribution might bejust a nod or smile as I acknowledge someone and then lookat someone else who I see has something to add. I becomemore like a focus group moderator. The less I say as a leaderthe better. The team generates the ideas and Im just thereto keep the ball rolling. Another key principle of both improv and innovation isthat MISTAKES ARE GOOD. In the innovation field, you haveto take chances. One of my favorite quotes is “Fail early. Failoften.” Theres no reason to shut anything down at the ideastage. The philosophy of successful companies is, “Lets tryit, but lets try it fast. If its not the right idea, we canquickly move on from that idea to something else.” To havean innovative culture, you have to encourage people to takechances. Thats one thing Ive enjoyed being able to do with myteam at the college. We say, “Lets try it and see how itworks. Lets invest two days in this. Lets have one of theseboot camps. Lets try it this way and lets learn from it.” Take a risk, exchange ideas, contribute in ways thatmake your fellow collaborators look good, try somethingnew, be creative, make mistakes, engage life and have funalong the way. Let the dance of collaboration move you. 43
  28. 28. "Serious play is not an oxymoron; it is theessence of innovation." ~ Michael Schrage 44
  29. 29. About the Author Rob Duncan Speaker, author, actor, thought leader,manager and college teacher – Rob Duncanhas done it all. Rob’s career spans severaldecades as a management consultant, college teacher, seniormanager and professional speaker. Duncan holds a BA inEconomics, an MBA and has just completed a Doctorate inBusiness Leadership in the area of social networking andcollaborative innovation. Rob is the author of the books “Haul Away! TeambuildingLessons from a Voyage around Cape Horn” and “CompetitiveIntelligence: Fast, Cheap and Ethical”, which was selected asone of the best business books of 2008. Whether describing his adventures in teambuildinggleaned from sailing on a tall ship around Cape Horn inforty-foot seas, or imparting timely and actionable informationthat audiences can immediately put to use, Rob has beendelighting speaking audiences the world over, from Beijingto Chennai, from Orlando to Whistler. Drawing on his professional theatre training, Rob is agenuine and enthusiastic speaker who leaves the crowdstimulated, thoughtful and entertained. For your next event, contact Rob for a speaking experiencethat will leave your troops inspired, uplifted and informed!Contact Rob: 98