Improv in Business? Yes, and...

Read what business leaders, academics and other experts have to say.

The advantages of applying improv skills in the workplace have been consistently validated by academic researchers, business leaders and other experts.

"Implementing improvisation doesn't require rejecting what companies have been doing. On the contrary, companies need to sharpen their traditional skills and add to them"
Professor Mary Crossan, Ph.D., Ivey School of Business, Western University, Canada

"In our studies, we have found that improvisers are better than professional product designers at thinking of creative product concepts."
Professor Barry Kudrowitz, Ph.D., University of Minnesota

"Given the unprecedented scope of changes that organizations face and the need for members at all levels to be able to think, plan, innovate, and process information, new models and metaphors are needed for organizing.

By looking at the practices and structures associated with jazz playing, it is possible to see that successful jazz performances are not haphazard or accidental. Musicians prepare themselves to be spontaneous. Jazz improvisation has implications that would suggest ways that managers and executives can prepare organizations to learn while in the process of acting.

The mechanistic, bureaucratic model for organizing—in which people do routine, repetitive tasks, in which rules and procedures are devised to handle contingencies, and in which managers are responsible for planning, monitoring and creating command and control systems to guarantee compliance—is no longer adequate.

Managers often attempt to create the impression that improvisation does not happen in organizations, that tightly designed control systems minimize unnecessary idiosyncratic actions and deviations from formal plans. People in organizations are often jumping into action without clear plans, making up reasons as they proceed, discovering new routes once action is initiated, proposing multiple interpretations, navigating through discrepancies, combining disparate and incomplete materials and then discovering what their original purpose was. To pretend that improvisation is not happening in organizations is to not understand the nature of improvisation.

Many business organizations, under pressure to perform, create cultures that reinforce instrumental, pragmatic, rational, and deliberate action rather than a culture that is expressive, artistic, paradoxical, and spontaneous.

Cultivate serious play: too much control inhibits flow. Jazz is an activity marked by paradox: musicians must balance structure and freedom, autonomy and interdependence, surrender and control. They grapple with the constrictions of previous patterns and structures: they strive to listen and respond to what is happening; at the same time they try to break out from these patterns to do something new with all the risks that both paths entail."
Frank J. Barrett, Ph.D., Professor, Naval Postgraduate School, from the article "Creativity and Improvisation in Jazz and Organizations: Implications for Organizational Learning"

"You can develop a persuasion style that is not based on pitches, but is based on relationship-building conversations that encourage people to agree with you and [encourage] customers to do business with you."
Steve Yastrow, author, Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion

"Marketing plans are never completely accurate. Learning how and when to deviate from those plans requires a form of improvisation similar to the art of jazz."
Professor Peter Whalen, Ph.D., Daniels College of Business, University of Denver

"Realtime communications, like improv comedy, has no script and requires careful combinations of spontaneity, information, and entertainment."
Will Burns, Forbes columnist and CEO of Ideasicle.

"Innovation thrives in an atmosphere of safety and non-criticism. Improvisation builds a muscle for trusting our own impulses and ideas, before we have to analyze how good they are, as well as helping develop an open-mindedness toward other people's ideas."
Daena Giardella, M.A., lecturer, MIT Sloan School of Management.

"We...extract three main lessons from improvisational theatre that can be applied to organizational improvisation. We look at the theatre techniques of ‘agreement’, ‘awareness’, ‘use of ready-mades’, and ‘collaboration’, and translate them into concepts that are relevant for organizations in developing an improvisational capability."
Professor Dusya Vera, Ph.D., Bauer College of Business, University of Houston
Professor Mary Crossan, Ph.D., Ivey School of Business, Western University, Canada

"[In] a field experiment of teaching sales students adaptive selling skills via an improvisational technique, 'Yes, And,'...The study’s findings reveal increased ticket sales performance among the improv group students."
Professor Richard A. Rocco, Ph.D., Driehaus College of Business, Center for Sales Leadership, DePaul University

"Improvisational comedy games are a useful warm-up for idea generation...and it is possible to teach creativity."
Professor Barry Kudrowitz, Ph.D., University of Minnesota