Serious comedy is not an oxymoron (OPINION)

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 223 views 

All hail the arts!

And rightly so. With thought leaders such as author Daniel Pink (“A Whole New Mind”) boldly stating that “the MFA is the new MBA,” the movement to recapture the value of the arts in an academic platform has emerged.

Pink’s pivotal book, published more than a decade ago, predicted forces in the world economy would shift society from left-brain thinking to right-brain thinking as the dominant thought pattern. In retrospect, that is precisely where we’ve landed today. Think about the relevance of storytelling, our desire for product design, a resurgent demand for all things handcrafted, or how individuals are searching for greater meaning in their lives. It’s all foreshadowed in his book.

Thankfully, the arts (literary, culinary, media, visual, performing) are being heavily leveraged in many of today’s marketplaces. Particularly interesting is the more recent merging of art forms (right-brain) and business thinking (left-brain) to drive value propositions. A perfect example of this blended thinking is storytelling — one’s ability to share compelling stories. There is a science to effective storytelling, yet it is also very much a nuanced art. Organizations of all sizes are embracing storytelling to sustain organizational culture.

Improvisation is another blended-thinking approach. In full disclosure, I should probably mention: I practice improvisational comedy, I perform in an improv troupe and I teach from a platform of applied improvisation. So, perhaps I’m slightly biased. I see the value of the performing arts play out on stage all the time: from personal learnings (emotional intelligence, divergent problem solving, executive presence) to business imperatives (innovation, creativity, collaboration). It’s all there.

But don’t just take my word for it. Thought leaders around the world are chiming in on the discussion, and they are staunch supporters on the value proposition of applied improvisation. 

“Improvisation should be taught in every business school in the country. It is a terrific way of learning the powerful creative competence of reframing. Improv also teaches you how to play in a team. It’s ‘ensemble creativity.’ Think music or sports.” — Bruce Nussbaum, professor of innovation and design at Parsons The New School for Design (New York), and author of “Creative Intelligence.”

“The future now belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of ‘left-brain’ dominance is giving way to a new world of artistic and holistic ‘right-brain’ abilities … the progression is towards a society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers.” — Daniel Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind.”

“Some people misunderstand improv … it seems that improv is all about being funny. But it is not. Improvisation is about being spontaneous … about being imaginative … about taking the unexpected and then doing something unexpected with it. The key is to be open to crazy ideas and building on them. And funnily enough, that is exactly what is needed if we are going to make our enterprises more creative and agile.” — Paul Sloane, author of “The Leaders Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills.”

“Improvisation is probably one of the two or three cardinal skills for businesses to learn in the future.” — John Kao, studied philosophy at Yale, received an MBA from Harvard Business School, held faculty appointments at Harvard, Yale and MIT.

If creativity is becoming the currency of the 21st century, then we would all do well to place our spend on the arts. Literary, culinary, media, visual, performing — take your pick. Organizations that find a way to infuse the arts (right-brain thinking) with the logic of business (left-brain thinking) stand a greater chance of creating more intuitive and holistic enterprises. 

All hail the arts! 

Stacey Mason is the owner of Mason On Leadership, a leadership consultancy that focuses on behavioral assessments and executive coaching. Improve Thru Improv ® is her trademarked platform that merges business acumen with improvisational techniques to deliver personal insights and powerful strategies. More information is available at or by calling 479-877-0131.