We are inundated with data. So the first business question we typically ask is a hard science question: What am I looking at here? And to answer that question requires a STEM thinker (a data science approach). But the deeper question, What does it mean? attempts to make sense of the data, and that takes more of a STEAM thinker (where the “A” stands for “Art”) to answer.
STEM education refers to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEAM simply makes room for Art in that educational mix. Thought leaders such as Daniel Pink have boldly stated that “the MFA is the new MBA”, furthering the movement to recapture the value of the Arts in a STEM-focused world.
Pink’s pivotal book “A Whole New Mind” suggested that forces in the world economy will shift society from left-brain thinking (linear, logical, analytical) to right-brain thinking (intuitive, creative, holistic) 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.
No longer are the arts being undervalued; quite the opposite. And this merging of art sensing with science thinking is driving some unique business (integrated thinking) propositions.
Case in point: the marriage of business imperatives with Applied Improvisation techniques. The art of improvisation capitalizes on the creative process to help reframe how businesses interpret — and therefore leverage — their capabilities.
The benefits of Applied Improvisation are far-ranging, with the following merely a small sampling of how businesses are merging art with science.
Using Applied Improvisation techniques helps businesses to:
Increase divergent problem-solving skills. In improvised scene work — because you have no idea what you will do next — you become much better at solving divergent problems, or problems that have multiple right answers. Oftentimes in business we get stuck looking for the one right answer, when in fact there are several best solutions to choose from.
Drive creativity and innovation. Innovation does best in environments where ideas simply flow. There are moments of absolute brilliance that you stumble upon while you’re busy making theater out of thin air. Embrace serendipity.
Understand exposure to risk. There is no failure in improvisation, there’s just stuff that didn’t go the way you thought it would. And that is brilliant. Once the fear of failure is removed, so is the pressure. The stage provides a free pass to make mistakes with no repercussions. Every error becomes endlessly diversified.
Develop reframing skills. Improvisation is the bridge: it allows for conversations about what is learned from the doing of the improvisation. Reframing is a foundational skill because it is learning in one context that has application other, potentially unrelated, contexts. In essence, learning drives learning.
Challenge comfort zones. People have comfort zones, and so do businesses. By pushing through the scary unknown, the awkward vulnerability, and the fear of failure, you develop greater muscle around agility and thinking faster and faster on your feet. You become less fatigued by the constant demands of change.
Drive team collaboration. The improvisor’s goal is to make their scene partner look like a genius. Every choice made on stage is for the betterment of the scene. It is selfless. Each actor begins to understand where and how they add value: they learn how to play to their strengths as well as the teams. And businesses are only as strong as their teams.
Share compelling stories. Storytelling is a nuanced art. It is the packaged content of brand and voice. And it is quite possibly the center of the human experience. That is why organizations all over the world look to storytelling as the most promising tool for sustaining organizational culture.
Art, science and business all seamlessly blended for the betterment of individuals, teams and organizations. And to that, I say, “Full STEAM ahead.”
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 by calling 479-877-0131. The opinions expressed are those of the author.