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“Preparation is key to improvisation! All your experiences, your education, the people you meet, find you In The Moment.”

In 1994 I went to an improv show and it changed my life. After 20 years of learning, performing and teaching I’ve come to realize that improvisation requires preparation. Often, when I tell someone I’m off to improv rehearsal, they respond with “How do you rehearse for improv?” It’s a fair question and one I understand.

Most people think that “improv” is just ad libbing or making it up as you go. While there may be a kernel of truth there, it’s not the whole truth. Viola Spolin, who influenced the first generation of improvisational actors at the Second City in Chicago in the late 1950s, and is often given credit for the birth of American Improv, defined improv as “going into a situation where you have a problem to solve, and not knowing how to solve the problem, using everything in the environment around you to come up with a solution.”

For an improvisor, that environment isn’t just the physical space they embody in a scene. It’s intellectual environment, it’s context, it’s pop culture, it’s an accumulation of life experiences, relationships and education. These are the tools we use for problem solving.

Morgan Freeman said, “Intuition is informed by study”. Improvisors often rely on that intuition when “making it up”. Intuition happens in the moment. To keep that intuition sharp, one has to study the “environment”. One has to develop their self awareness and an awareness of those around them. We often refer to that awareness as EQ or Emotional Intelligence.

This is the preparation part of it…

Improv isn’t really what we do, it’s how we do it. I like to think of improv as a method for solving problems by allowing space for intuition and awareness to converge in the moment.

So how does this apply to business?

In the business world, we often face situations where our execution within the moment determines success, much like it does on the stage.

Business Improvisation is the ability to understand a situation, to access creativity and apply it to the circumstance. It’s thinking quickly, being confident and flexible enough to adapt your performance in real time to whatever gets thrown at you.

Performing anything under pressure is difficult; being creative under pressure is extremely difficult. The skills that improvisors rely on: active listening, awareness, communication, agility, agreement and collaboration can be taught and applied in the business world.

This brings us back to the earlier question, “How do you rehearse for Improv?”

I leave you to ponder this quote from Malcolm Gladwell…

“How good people’s decisions are under the fast-moving, high stress conditions or rapid cognition is a function of training and rules and rehearsal.”

Find yourself in the moment…