For a number of years I attended classes for improvisational theatre. At the time, from my scientifically and mathematically inclined family I generally got the feedback that, ‘oh you’re doing that fluffy stuff’. Back then I couldn’t clearly articulate what I saw as the many benefits of taking these classes gave to my life in a way I am able to now.
I believe improv can teach skills that improve leadership and management abilities in at least three key ways:
- Coping with uncertainty: When you’re in an improv scene, you don’t know what’s coming next. There are no lines for you to follow a script; you have to be prepared for the unexpected. And you are prepared not via a plan, you’re prepared by being present, listening, and reacting to what is said. Improv techniques can help a leader to learn how to recover in an instant; the ability of recovering being one of the most challenging characteristics, I believe, for leaders to develop.
- Opening possibilities: The worst thing you can do in improv theatre is to say something that ‘closes the scene’. The goal is to look for as many opportunities as you can to build the scene and to keep it going. This skill is hugely helpful in training our minds to be more creative and to look for possibilities rather than limitations.
- Clarity in communication: I took a course at the Canadian Management Centre titled ‘Effective Executive Speaking’. I asked the trainer what he did to develop his skills; he replied ‘improv classes’. Improv also teaches you how to clearly and with confidence communicate with others for them to react naturally and in flow with what you’re saying. This is a great skill to develop because we are constantly in communication to get what we need.
If I could redesign our education system, improv classes would definitely be included in the formal curriculum. Improv is a way of learning skills that are useful for everyone in every facet of life. A question to explore further; is our current education system preparing us for the challenges we will face in life?