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Don't Fear Mistakes; Just Adjust

Oct 26, 2015

By Will Hines

Success doesn't mean making fewer mistakes. It just means recovering more quickly. The term I like to use is 'agility.'  Improv teaches you that mistakes are nothing to fear as long as you have the agility to adjust yourself quickly. Agile brands and professionals understand and deftly recover from 'mistakes.'

I put 'mistakes' in quotes because something that was initially a mistake will end up being helpful, given enough adjustments. But let's say a mistake is something that at least temporarily stops the scene or company from moving forward. These happen all the time. A rookie will be so dismayed that they impeded their scene or damaged their brand that they'll freeze up. The veteran knows the way out of a problem is to move THROUGH it.

In 2011, Netflix tried to separate its service of streaming movies away as a separate brand called 'Qwikster.' However, the decision was met with criticism and mockery and many industry blogs declared the move a mistake. After a week, the CEO cancelled the new brand and simply introduced a new pricing plan for the streaming service. So was 'Qwikster' a mistake? Probably. But because of a quick correction, there was no lasting harm done; Netflix is currently the most-watched 'cable network' in America.

My favorite improv example of overcoming a mistake comes from a graduation performance of a class I taught. After a few scenes, a student came out and started flapping his arms to indicate he was a bird. Normally, another student would join and the two would do a scene. But for some reason, no one stepped out. The first student was out there alone, silently flapping his arms, looking nervous and abandoned. A few people in the crowd tittered; they could tell something was going wrong. After a full minute of silence, another ran across the stage, which is the agreed upon signal that the scene was over. Then, two OTHER people stepped out to do a new scene. 

This was a HUGE failure on the class' part. To abandon a fellow classmate and then to just end the scene without addressing it was as big a 'mistake' as I could imagine. I sat in the audience mortified that I had taught this class. Then after a few scenes, the same student stepped out AGAIN and flapped his arms. AGAIN, NO ONE JOINED HIM. He stood there in silence and flapped his arms. Except this time, the audience started giggling. It was becoming a pattern, and patterns are funny. A few of his classmates exchanged looks with each other as they thought about joining him. Instead, someone simply ran across the stage and ended the scene again. The audience laughed moderately and a few people applauded.  A few more scenes went by.

For a THIRD TIME, the student came out and flapped his arms. This time, a few students joined him, then a few more - each flapping his/her arms. Soon they had formed a 'V' of birds on the stage. The initial student looked to his left and right and saw that everyone had joined him and they all simultaneously "flapped" off the stage together. The audience exploded in applause.

Afterwards, I overheard someone saying 'How did they know to not go out the first two times?' They didn't know. They made a mistake. But they adjusted, and so everything was fine.

The point is: there is no point in being scared of mistakes. Just be ready to adjust.

Src: Will Hines
fear improv mistakes Will Hines ucbworkplace agility

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The Fundamentals of Improv in the Workplace

Oct 26, 2015

Veteran UCB performer and instructor Ari Voukydis recently shared his insights on improv in the workplace with Funding Gates, a blog that features management tips. This excerpt summarizes the nuts and bolts of improv as a management training tool.

Before making improvisation a part of your management training, it is important to know what it's really all about:

1) It's Not About Comedy:  As Ari Voukydis puts right on the table, "Improv is not about comedy. It's about clarity, communication and a willingness to change."

2) "Yes" And...:  As Ari points out, we "are naturally risk adverse" as people, which can make it easy for us to say no to things. But as Frank Blocker explains, improv is about "saying yes to everything. You have to give your partner something to work with. You must advance the dialogue." Amy Roeder expounds, saying "What that boils down to is that it is the improvisor's job to hear the offer their partner is making, acknowledge it and then build off that idea by contributing their own ideas." That's why "Yes, And... is a staple in improvisation. As Amy points out, "it has become terribly easy to say no, which is why improvisational training tends to be so revolutionary for businesses. In the work I do with businesses, we spend a lot of time working on the idea of acceptance, of saying 'yes' to an idea to see just how efficiently and collaboratively people can work together."

3) Listen, listen, listen: Roeder believes the idea behind yes, and... is 'active and engaged listening'. She says, 'It is impossible to build on your partner's idea if you didn't fully hear that idea.' As Frank states, 'Through listening, you can see where the storyline should and/or could advance. Close your mouth and you'll have a few seconds of good thinking time, inspired by what you're hearing.' Ari adds, "Listening is manifesting a willingness to change". As he reminds, this is one of the most "important skills in any creative endeavor." In improv, it teaches us (in Voukydis' words), to "disengage that normal part of your brain that tries to avoid failure and capture that as nature's teaching tool."

4) Always Pick a Leader: In improv, Blocker says, "Someone should always be the leader. Dueling leaders becomes yelling. And one leader can keep you on point. The 'lead' can switch, but only when you've created a good working dialogue or some sort of framework."

5) Make Your Partner Look Like a Genius: Ari says the best way to excel at improv 'is to make your partner look like a genius. Almost nobody operates that way instinctually. If you listen, are unselfish and set each other up, you will succeed. And if you don't, you won't.'
The full article is available here. 

Src: Ari Voukydis
improv training ucbworkplace ari voukydis management

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Why (and How) to Build Trust at Work

Oct 26, 2015

By Shannon O'Neill

Before shows, many improvisers look into their teammates eyes and say 'Got your back.' This is an expression of trust. Regardless of what happens on stage, the members of the improv team will support each other. Nobody will be left alone to struggle on stage, nobody's ideas will be ignored, nobody will feel left out.

When an improviser steps on stage and verbalizes an idea for a scene, their teammate joins and supports the idea. They continue to do this and create a successful scene. This is a result of trust.

Improv builds trust.

To successfully work as a team, whether the team is made up of two people or twenty people, the members have to trust each other. This goes for sports teams, improv teams and teams created in the workplace.

Nobody likes to be micromanaged. You want to know that an assignment was given to you because you can handle it. You want to give someone an assignment because you know they can handle it.  It feels good to be trusted and to trust. Studies show that employees who feel trusted will demonstrate higher levels of productivity, enhanced creativity and innovation.

When students are first learning how to improvise there is usually a lack of trust, both in themselves and their classmates. But through exercises in class, the students learn that in order to have successful scenes, they have to trust themselves and more importantly, each other. And when they finally allow this to happen, their scenes are better and they start to discover that they are capable of more than they realized.

This also translates into the workplace. When colleagues trust each other, they will have more confidence while completing their assigned tasks, which often leads to superior work and ultimately greater profits.

Src: Shannon O'Neil
improv trust shannon o'neill ucbworkplace teamwork

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