Status in London Business School

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Professor Gabe Adams at London Business School is one of a growing number of academics that have seen the power of applied improv in the business world and integrated it into their curriculum. The students go from skeptical to evangelists in a single class. Applied improv can bridge the rigor of academic theory and real world practice in the classroom and prepare the students for the ambiguity that business life brings.

Prof. Adams asked me to teach status in her class Paths to Power which looks at many aspects of power. Status in improv, which is different than social status, looks at the behaviors and nonverbal communication that gives us authority or makes us approachable. Language still plays a role, but there is a whole world to explore when the dialogue is eliminated or constrained.

Status - a dynamic condition of a relationship or interaction

Social Status - a ranking of worth, value or importance

Even the simplest of exercises can start to explore the relationship of power and status. Dan Klein at Stanford University introduced me to a simple activity that asks students standing in a circle to take a single step forward and calmly say "Hello, my name is. And, I here." before stepping back into the circle. There are a huge number of variations that display the level of comfort the students have and their own relationships, in that moment, to authority and power. From humor, to rebellion, to simple and calm confidence to participate without changing the exercise or words - their actions speak loudly to the rest of the class as they observe.

Each student will take away their own lessons, insights, and learning from the class. However, one of my stated learning objectives was:

All human interactions are communication in the language of status. Making conscious choices in what you say nonverbally increases your chance of successful leadership.

The 4 “Fresh” Secrets to a successful Improv Business

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Your business as an improviser, actor, clown or artists is still a business.  So what’s are the secret to a successful improv business? Okay, if we knew the 4 things that could guarantee your improv business a success, there would be many more successful improv businesses.  The best we have is what the business world calls “best practices”.  Best practices are generally identified by looking at successful companies and asking, what are they doing right?

Sometimes this approach leads to innovation and sometimes to tried-and-true business fundamentals.  See if the following story offers you any insights into your improv business.

Traveling in Mexico recently, I found myself in a conversation with a man who owns a bakery in the Pacific Northwest.  He mentioned that his bakery had been in operation for almost 40 years.

I couldn’t resist asking him, “what the secret of your businesses success?”

Without missing a beat a big smile came across his face and he said, “just 4 things.”  Then like a good storyteller he paused.  So I leaned in and asked, “Could you share them?”

He said, “I’d be pleased to.”

“My business has been successful for so many years because:

  1. We make a product that looks good.
  2. We make a product that tastes good.
  3. Our products are served by people who like people
  4. Our products are priced fairly”

I immediately thought of my improv company in San Francisco...and how it would fair when held against these ‘best practices’.  (Very well I’m pleased to say).

Here’s the process I used to translate these bakery success secrets to an improv business.

  1. Does the environment look good?  Is the theater (performance space) clean and pleasant?  Are the performers and support staff well dressed?
  2. Does the performance achieve its goal?  Make people laugh? Deliver a good time?
  3. Do your performers enjoy people?  This may seem like a simple question but I’ve seen some players who don’t want to talk to the audience.  For example, they’ll resist standing at the door after the show and thanking the audience for coming.  Or they’ll ask for scene suggestions by shouting at the audience as if they’re a pack of adolescent children who need a loud stern voice instead of just talking with them.
  4. Are your ticket prices fair?  Do they fall within the other choices they have for an evening’s entertainment?  If you company is continually offering discounts your ticket may be over priced.

How about your company?

AIN Open Space

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Welcome to the AIN conference, we have no idea what this conference will be about - let's make it up.

There is a little more too it than that, but that is what this conference is. It is an improvised conference. The participants create deliver and participate in the program but it is made up each day. We all knew ahead of time and people still prepared material to present, but there was no official program schedule created.

The concept is structured and has rules and is called Open Space. It is based on the idea that the best part of many conferences is the coffee breaks where great conversations take place and tries to make the conference all coffee breaks.

It is particularly intriguing for improvisers who love to life in the moment and create on the fly. There can be a slight downside in that it can tend to have a lack of flow in some sessions because the prep work is not there, but it can also be inspirational and capture what is current and interesting to many people.

And, if it's not good - the law of two feet requires that you get up and leave if you feel like you don't want to be there anymore. So the social contract of not being rude by leaving the middle is changed. It can be a big relief when it's just nor for you.

So, would you come to a conference if you knew there was no program?

21st Century Business Skills

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I'm sitting the of office of Troje, in Amsterdam, where I just had lunch with Henk, Alieke, and Liselotte - all "van Troje".  All of us have used improv with organizations for years in several ways - from Role-play to corporate performance to workshops on change, communication, collaboration, innovation and everything in between. Improv is a growing buzzword in the business lexicon these days and is being adopted around the world, although Europe has a few years head start on the US right now in our experience. But more articles are showing up in business press including the recent article on CNN.

In education 21st Century Skills are teaching children four primary areas - Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Communication, and Collaboration.

These 21st Century principles, mindset, and skills are required for improv and are useful in many places and are the key to the business world as we move into the 21st century. These 21st Century Business Skills have been "discovered" by software developers in the Agile and SCRUM movements, by designers in Design Thinking being used by the Stanford d.school and IDEO to name just a few.

Applied Improv is a rich toolkit for teaching the principles and mindset and give the opportunity to practice the lessons and skills.

Applied Improv Rapid Instructional Design

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You are in front of the room. You are about to begin to teach, train, coach, lead, facilitate, moderate, mediate - bring the group through some experience in which they are going to learn. What comes next? Do you PLAN or PREPARE? Is there a difference? I say YES based on working with Thiagi from The Thiagi Group. He has collected ideas that combine being "in the moment" and "adapting on the fly" that create an exciting and engaging style of learning. There's more at the website http://www.thiagi.com/.

Here is a recent tweet stream that is a particularly helpful set of principles that you can adopt into any learning forum that you do.

  • #RID. An activity for using TEDTalk videos for teaching presentation skills. http://thiagi.com/pfp/IE4H/november2010.html
  • #RID. Empower learners. Read Pearl Nitsche's "Talk Less, Teach More" and Donal Finkel's "Teaching with Your Mouth Shut".
  • Faster, Cheaper, Better (FCB): Approach to rapid instructional design (#RID). We Share a set of principles. Respond with skeptical remarks.
  • #RID Principle 1: Let the inmates run the asylum. Empower learners to take charge of their learning. Make them responsible and accountable.
  • #RID. Give choice to the learners. Let them determine what specific objectives they want to master and how they want to master them.
  • #RID. Learning styles could be all baloney but giving learners a choice in how they learn increases their motivational level.
  • #RID. Let learners become trainers. People learn effectively by training others. Use jigsaw approach to require and reward mutual learning.
  • #RID. Teach different groups of learners different units of knowledge or and steps in a skill. Let them teach other. Peer teaching rocks!
  • #RID. Teach different model, theories, and perspectives to different groups of learners. Let them jointly analyze scenarios and cases.
  • #RID. Let the learners test each other. Evaluating others’ performance using objective rating scale helps learners increase their mastery.
  • #RID. Let learners become instructional designers. Ask them to create posters, job aids, graphics, podcasts to enhance the training process.
  • #RID. Let this group of learners write advice and suggestions to future groups of learners on how best to master the training objectives.
  • #RID. Gradually convert your instructor-led training sessions into self instruction by using training materials created by learners.
  • #RID. Let learners generate content. Use activities that structure the collection, clustering, and sharing of best practices and examples.
  • #RID. Let learners generate questions on the content they learned. Embed these questions in quiz contests, board games, and final tests.
  • #RID. Let learners provide feedback. Let them evaluate each others' product by using objective rubrics. It improves everyone's performance.