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How to use improv to jumpstart your business

By Bob Kulhan, the Founder, President, and CEO of Business Improv

There are plenty of companies that exemplify what happens when you fail to embrace improv —Blockbuster, Radio Shack and Kodak are examples of companies that did not embrace change, did not take advantage of unexpected opportunities and did not adapt to an evolving consumer landscape.

So how do you use improv effectively in business?

The skills that we rely on during improv — including centered thinking and split-second decision-making — also apply to many day-to-day challenges of the business world: running productive meetings, sparking exceptional brainstorming sessions, providing tough feedback, managing conflict, networking, creating entrepreneurial corporate cultures. In business, improvisation thrives at the pivotal intersection where planning and strategy meet execution.

Here are some ways to use improv to jumpstart your business skills:

How to use “Yes, and…” 

“Yes, and …” is a technique that slows the brain down. It allows you to be present and in the moment and dramatically strengthens your ability to listen, focus, concentrate, and engage. It’s also an indication that you’re postponing judgment, fostering inclusivity and increasing adaptability, flow, and momentum. It facilitates conversation.

Conversely, “Yes, but” comes across as a restriction, a denial, a contradiction, or a deflection — essentially it shuts other people (and ideas) down. To whomever it’s directed, the “but …” feels like it negates everything said before it.

In short, “Yes, and…” invites someone to dance with you; “Yes, but…” implies that you want to dance alone — or you’ll just shut music off completely so no one can dance at all.

What are some quick improv exercises we can all do to prepare for a job interview?

For improvisers, everything starts with being relaxed, in the mental “zone,” and ready to let our natural intelligence rise to the surface (so we are not “trapped in our heads”). Start by warming up to loosen the body and the mind and get into “game state.” A few great exercises that will help you loosen up are: Object Transformation (take any object and use it in any way, other than the way it was originally intended), Make Up A Story (free-flow tell a story that has never been created) and Acronyms (pick a handful of real acronyms and make up your own definition for them). 

What are some quick improv exercises we can all do to prepare for a presentation?

If you know your material inside and out (which is key!), then here are a few improv tricks to help you get in the right mental and physical space to perform to the best of your ability. Great improvisers warm up before everything, so that they are pumped, focused and ready to perform. Provided you actually know your material, then relax, rely on improv and “Yes, and…” yourself. Remember that all presentations are about delivering messages rather than data, and focus on bringing energy, engaging your audience, and (when all else fails) have fun! (People love to see personality and if you don’t have fun, no one else will).

What are some strategies improv teams use that executives can also use to maintain the great teams they’ve created?

Look to protect your team and do not be afraid to remove members who undermine the team or the overall project/process. Not every great improviser is a great fit for every great team/show, and if you don’t pull those folks out, you risk suffocating the rest of group and harming the overall project. On a separate note, be open to evolution and allow the team and team culture to change as it finds its own “voice” and style of performing in an elite fashion together.

What are some things you can do right now to get started with improv?

Start by “Yes, And’ing…” yourself on a personal level. Use it to unlock your personal creativity, get the ball rolling on projects, proposals or conversations, and as a language and philosophy to help you communicate with others, manage conflict, embrace change and deal with the unexpected.

Energy and attitude are choices — small tweaks in both can affect others in profound ways.

Kulhan is the author of the new book GETTING TO ‘YES, AND’