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Nick Skillicorn

CEO & Founder, Innovation Coach at Improvides
Voted as the world's #7 Innovation blogger in 2014, I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love.

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Nick Skillicorn
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improvisation

One of the most common misconceptions about challenges to improve people’s creativity, especially through improvisation exercises, is that it is only focused on aspects of work related to performing (like presentations), or worse, that they’re just a bit of fun for the team. What most people don’t realise is that when done properly and repeatedly, improvisation for Business can have profound effects on people and teams’ abilities to come up with valuable, innovative ideas more frequently and consistently. And it works for anyone who needs to come up with ideas, be they in Marketing, Engineering, design, Operations, Leadership and everyone in between. It’s like having a fitness instructor for your creativity.

Top 13 business benefits of training in improvisation:

13. You can’t fake it
Most one-off workshops, training sessions and staff away days are instructional, with an expert giving advice which the observers should then go away and use, some of whom may be checking emails on their phones. Problem is, usually once the session is over, people go back to doing things the same way. Improvisation sessions are highly interactive, with the whole group experiencing exercises simultaneously. It is this repeated exerience which develops new connections in the brain and brings benefit.

12. Team dynamics
Sessions need to be small, with a maximum of 12 participants, and work best with teams who will be working together. One of the core values taught is of group trust and building on each other’s ideas. Much like a sports team, groups which undergo the training together subsequently form a more effective team on their projects. People are more aware of each other’s ideas and work more collaboratively, since the goal of the project is more more important than any one individual.

11. “Yes-And” collaboration
When one person suggests an idea, it is the duty of the group to take that idea and build on it with their own suggestion, known as “Yes-And”. The end result is a team producing a much larger number of ideas which have been refined and improved upon, and is also the basis of effective brainstorming. It is also vital when trying to develop a corporate culture which encourages experimentation and potential for (early and cheap) failure.

10. Speed of thought
Many of the exercises we do focus specifically on people being able to come up with ideas at a moment’s notice, without preparation. Initially this can be jarring and difficult, but just like physical exercise, with practice all people eventually improve the speed at which these spontaneous ideas become easier to access until they become instantaneous. This greatly improves the speed of idea generation in teams and projects as well.

9. Divergent & Convergent thinking
Divergent thinking (coming up with new & different ideas) and convergent thinking (taking a number of previous ideas, refining and improving them) require different parts of the brain. Various improvisation exercises focus on one or the other, but some require rapid switching between both mental states. This results in people more able to switch between situations where at one point big-picture creativity is required, before then developing deep focus on refining and critiquing ideas.

8. Confidence
Some people, especially many introverts, tell us that they find it difficult expressing ideas in public or presenting in front of a group. Based on the theatrical nature of improvisation, often the thing they tell us they’re most satisfied with is more confidence and am improved ability to get their views across.

7. New experiences & viewpoints
Many improvisation exercises require the performers to become a variety of characters, sometimes repeating the same situation with various viewpoints. This is vital in business, especially when developing new products and services, since you need people to consider the expectations and experiences from different perspectives, be they a customer, a supplier, the media or a regulator.

6. Breaking through barriers
One of the most difficult situations for someone creative to be in is a creative block, where ideas just aren’t flowing like they normally do. Improvisation training has numerous exercises which can approach these challenges in a new way, which is an effective way to overcome these hurdles. Additionally, teams going through training have been shown to be effective at helping individual members through these times.

5. Working within rules & limitations
Have you heard that you should “Think outside the box”, meaning that you have complete freedom. Well, recent studies have showed that this is actually ineffective since too much freedom means there is no direction and creativity is actually inhibited. What is more likely to generate a breakthrough is everyone understanding the limits within which an idea needs to work, essentially what the “rules” for the idea are. All improvisation exercises have certain rules which govern what the performers can and cannot do. Training in these games makes the mind more efficient at self-analysing ideas to see if they fit the criteria before being expressed, leading to better quality ideas at the end.

4. Letting go
In the initial stages of training, many people still try to think of ideas in advance and then try to fit them into a scene whether or not they are appropriate. After a certain amount of time and guidance, one of the biggest breakthrough moments comes when people realise that they cannot have the answer in advance, so they ‘let go’ of their preconceived notions of coming up with ideas in advance and allow themselves to be spontaneous with a partner, even if this means they may make a mistake. This acceptance of the potential of mistakes and failures is one of the most powerful changes people notice and brings about a whole alteration of their mindset.

3. Flow
When someone is in a state of ‘flow’, the right answers feel like they come naturally without effort. It is very evident on stage, especially when two or more people are in the state at the same time. Once someone experiences this sensation for the first time, it indicates that they have developed a large number of new neural connections, and that tasks related to coming up with new ideas which they previously found challenging will now be more comfortable and consistent.

2. Openness to criticism
During a recent interview with one of London’s most respected Improv instructors, Tom Salinsky, he noted that one of the biggest changes that comes from an Improviser’s mindset is that you do not get protective about your ideas when someone suggests something potentially better. Since ideas are there to be built upon, and some developed in the moment are bound to be of lower quality than others, you begin to feel more comfortable with people suggesting that certain ideas are not that good. In a team, this can have the tremendous effect of taking groups from a position where people treat their ideas as their property and children to one where commentary and criticism is welcome as it moves the ideas, and therefore the end result, forward.

1. It has been proven scientifically to work
In the past few years, two separate studies have indicated how being in an improvisation state of mind affects the brain. Studies of Jazz musicians and freestyle rappers using fMRI brain imaging have shown that the main change which occurs between reciting rehearsed music and improvising new music is that a part of the brain called the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), located behind your eyes, becomes less active. This is also the part of the brain which governs impulse control and acts as a filter to what thoughts should and shouldn’t enter your consciousness, and acts as your mental self-censorship center. So with practice, improvisation training enables people to suppress the part of the brain which limits the generation of new ideas, making them able to spontaneously generate more ideas whenever they need.

Improvides are specialists in coaching businesses and their teams in improvisation and are the only company who base their pricing and costing on measurable improvement in your ability to generate ideas. What is important to note is that much like using a fitness instructor, in order to see change you need multiple sessions, not just a one-off workshop. We recommend multiple 2 hour sessions over a minimum of a 2 week period in order for businesses to actually get the value they are after.

If you would like to find out more about how Improvides can help your team, why not read more about our Consulting Services, and then Contact Us with any queries you may have. We look forward to working with you.