I am a big fan of the sciences. I’m an even bigger fan of the arts. And I’m fanatic about the intersection of the two because that’s where the magic happens.
Perhaps some context is needed.
My background is in big business. I spent nearly 20 years at Walmart in the logistics division. I devoured data and metrics and devised systems and processes. While some people find that work tedious, I was exhilarated by it. I still tend to become giddy about anything that involves a spreadsheet.
My connection to the arts is more recent. Nearly 10 years ago, I signed up for an improv class in hopes of finding a way to deal with my aversion to change. As I fondly tell others, I’m the female version of TV’s Sheldon Cooper — only not as hip. Not only did improv help me more positively navigate the unprecedented amount of change coming at me in the world today, it offered me an entirely different perspective on understanding how others are wired (personality science) and what is absolutely essential in a collaborative environment.
My immersion in this craft was a game changer that solidified my long-held belief that the best skill development is realized in a marriage of polar disciplines — a blended approach. Ying and yang. Duality. Two disparate parts coming together to produce something far better than either could on their own.
Focusing on technical disciplines will make you one kind of smart. Immersing yourself in the arts (and humanities) will make you a different kind of smart. And while being smart is essential, being differently smart is a force multiplier.
With “disruption” being the new business-as-usual, it’s essential that individuals and organizations develop more holistic thinking. Interconnectedness drives humanity, business platforms and globalization. Ignoring that connection puts us all at peril. Competencies such as creativity, innovation, collaboration and communication are more critical than ever in a world that depends on interconnectedness.
Here’s how one facet of the arts (improvisation) intersects with a few highly desirable business imperatives.
Creativity and innovation: Innovation does best in environments where ideas simply flow. It’s about the unencumbered asking of what if … how come … why not. In improv, there are no wrong answers. There’s just stuff that didn’t go the way we thought it would. These are the moments of absolute brilliance that you stumble upon while you’re busy making theater out of thin air.
Storytelling: Storytelling is a nuanced art. And it is quite possibly the center of the human experience. There is almost a visceral sensation when you come to understand the world of someone else through his or her story. Our personal perspectives often shift because these narratives change how we see the broader context of the world. In improv work, I remind others that it’s never the what; it’s always the how. In every scene you’re telling a story. How you tell it matters the most.
Collaboration: Collaboration is a horizontal construct that operates across business units throughout an entire enterprise to create seismic shifts in business thinking. (Collaboration differs from teambuilding; teambuilding is a vertical concept because the handoffs occur up and down within a unit, operating in unison, and delivering contained value.) The very essence of improv is collaboration. Everyone on stage brings a brick, and together they build a cathedral.
Speed: There is an unprecedented rate of change rocking businesses today. The pace of disruption is massive, rapid and turbulent. Perhaps never before has the need to work from the very top of your intelligence been greater. How fast can you think on your feet? How well do you shift, morph, evolve? These are the quintessential skills that improvisers learn to embrace. Scenes are unscripted, unrehearsed and unexpected. You endlessly practice responding to what you can’t predict. You have no other choice but to become an expert at thinking faster and faster on your feet.
Too often “the sciences versus the arts” conversation is relegated to an either/or proposition. We need the sciences. We need the arts. But what we need most is the genius that lives in their marriage. Ancora Imparo… (Still, I am learning)
Stacey Mason is the founder of The Improv Lab, a professional development business in Bentonville. More information is available at TheImprovLab.com or by calling 479-877-0131. The opinions expressed are those of the author.