How Improvisation can Boost Innovation

If you have an innovative culture already in place (meaning you’re working with stuff like agile project management, design thinking, lean, etc.) perhaps it’s time you consider Applied Improvisation Training. If instead you are a static and uncommunicative company, Applied Improvisation may even work against your innovation efforts. Edoardo Binda Zane explains more.

Improvisation, well taught, can boost innovation in companies, but not in all of them. There are certain conditions you need to have in place to get the creative boost you’re looking for. Without them, applied improvisation may even damage your innovation potential.

Your company should have these four conditions in place:

  1. High expertise
  2. High teamwork skills
  3. High experimental culture
  4. High real-time internal information and communication

If those four conditions are in place, then Improvisation Training can generate a positive effect on innovation (Vera and Crossan, 2005). If they are not in place, the effect of applied improvisation on innovation may be even reversed.

Take a look:

If you look at the net effects in terms of innovation, though, you are always better off having your four factors established and adding improvisation to them. In other words, you reach your highest innovation potential if you first work on your team’s expertise, teamwork, experimental culture and communication, and only then add improv to the mix.

Let’s take an example

At the beginning of a project, you have an idea-generation phase. (Call it brainstorming if you wish, even though I have a pet-peeve with that.) We all know the rules: don’t censor anything, don’t judge, etc.  So, what would Impro Training do to your team with respect to brainstorming? Answer: a single impro workshop can cause a 37% increase in idea generation and output during brainstorming. (Kudrowitz, MIT, 2010).

Data Source: Kudrowitz, MIT 2010.

You can get the basics with a one-day or even half-day training. The basic concepts are not rocket science – what is difficult is “getting it” and applying these concepts consistently every day.

Start with a simple training and see what changes in your team dynamics, then decide what to do. It might also be that Improvisation isn’t right for your team: it’s not the magic wand after all – but it’s definitely worth a try.

There is abundance of trainers around the world, if you want to find one just look up your choices on the website of the Applied Improvisation Network (AIN). For example, for Berlin you’d find my AIN profile here.

If you find nothing around you on the AIN’s website, don’t give up. There are a bunch of trainers that aren’t registered so feel free to explore around!

By Edoardo Binda Zane

About the author

I have been working in and heading large business and policy projects for a large part of my career. I have also been improvising at a professional level for 5 years and have studied with several top-level schools (UCB, Dave Razowsky, ComedySportz). I exploit contact points between these realities and use them to transfer skills between them in my workshops. I am the author of two books: Effective Decision-Making: how to make better decisions under uncertainty and pressure and Writing Proposals: A Handbook of What Makes Your Project Right For Funding. Connect via LinkedIn >

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