What Business Leaders Can Learn From Improv Actors

ASHLEY McHUGH | Special to The Daily News

Ashley McHugh

Take a moment to think of someone you know who is confident and fast to adapt in the moment, someone who routinely performs well under pressure and who has an uncanny ability to deftly counterbalance risks and rewards in an instant to make a smart decision.

Did you think of a leader in your organization – or did you think of an improv actor?

Improv – short for improvisational acting – is a technique built on reacting to other actors in the spur of the moment. Improv actors collaborate with each other, responding creatively in a performance that’s entirely unscripted and often influenced by unknown elements, like shouted suggestions from the audience.

Even though improv typically takes the form of a comedy, business schools around the country are starting to take it very seriously. More frequently, top MBA programs are incorporating improv classes in their curriculum. Stanford, MIT, Duke and UCLA have all started offering classes on improv as part of their MBA programs, to help their students practice the skills that will make them stand out in the business world.

Every improv performance is built around the central principle of “Yes, and.” Once the performance has started, each actor has to adapt quickly to the suggestions made by his or her peers without hesitating – and no one can refuse a suggestion, no matter how bizarre it may be.

Just learning about the principle of “Yes, and” can be a valuable take-away from improv classes. Not only will it heighten your team’s creativity during brainstorming sessions, but it can also create a more positive culture. Instead of trying to control the outcome of conversations and interactions, the principle of “Yes, and” will help your team stay open to possibilities and new ideas in the moment.

Using the “Yes, and” principle in your meetings can transform your team’s dynamic. Too many times in the business world, we end up saying “Yes, but” to dismiss or challenge other’s ideas. While this response can help individuals sharpen their ideas to a finer point, so does the “Yes, and” principle. Instead of instinctually challenging fledgling ideas with a “Yes, but” answer, using a “Yes, and” management style will encourage your team to spot the potential in one another’s ideas, inspiring more active participation and a deeper sense of collaboration in your team as they work together to polish a diamond in the rough.

After all, as every actor knows, your performance may not have the outcome you planned, but if you can be flexible and creative, it might just turn out even better in the end.

Ashley McHugh, training and development strategist at RedRover Sales & Marketing Strategy, can be reached at www.redrovercompany.com.