Most advice is worthy of thorough examination. Often advice about one discipline — with just a bit of translation — has meaning in other disciplines. This translation process allows for more perspective and greater insight.
As a case in point: The more I study improvisation, the more parallels I see to the business world. And while I’ve written about this practice in the past, I continue to discover more connections. So what follows is even more improv advice in translation.
Improv advice: Don’t take any shortcuts on energy or polish. You may have done the show a thousand times, but some people see it for the first time. Business advice: It’s showtime every time.
Improv advice: Play with improvisors of various experience levels. New folks will remind you to make clear offers. Veterans will keep you in your emotions. Business advice: Strive for connectivity at every level within your organization. New hires will look to you for help navigating company culture and expectations. Tenured leaders will help you to understand the business from various perspectives.
Improv advice: Cast cohesion takes time. No matter how funny you or your troupe-mates are, you must be patient while the culture comes together. Business advice: Team cohesion takes time. No matter how brilliant everyone is, learning how to work seamlessly and succeeding collectively takes time and patience.
Improv advice: Conflict in a scene can take many effective forms. One versus one. One versus many. Everyone on stage against the world. Business advice: Healthy conflict can serve as a catalyst to strengthen teams and relationships.
Improv advice: Keep an improv journal. Write down ideas for shows. Write down good feedback you’ve been given. Write down good feedback you’ve overheard. Business advice: Keep a journal and spend time in reflection. Write down the lessons you’ve learned along the way.
Improv advice: See as much improv as you can. Constantly remind yourself that your style is one of many and that you exist as part of a huge, diverse art form. Business advice: There are a lot of ways to run a business. There are a lot of ways to lead. Your style can be unapologetically all you.
Improv advice: Side-coaching from your director or troupe-mates doesn’t mean you’re bad at improv. It means that you’re good enough for them to think you can get even better. Business advice: Hard to hear feedback from a peer or supervisor can be challenging. It can also be exactly what you needed to know in order to become a better version of yourself.
Improv advice: Find out how to perform to a cold crowd without compromising your format. Find out how to perform to a rowdy crowd without compromise too. Business advice: Adjusting your style for a given situation is not the same thing as compromising who you are fundamentally. Flexing is good; selling out is not good.
Improv advice: Different formats will make you improvise differently and so will different troupe-mates, different directors and even different performing stages. One of the goals as an improvisor is to understand how different configurations of people, places and things impact you as an artist. Business advice: Different is different. And what’s different needs to be taken into consideration.
Improv advice: There is no amount of funny you can be that justifies being a bully, being unprofessional or being arrogant. In improvisation, trust is foundational to execution. If you make yourself a burden to work with through your behavior, you simply cannot do good work. Business advice: Trust and moral character matter. Full stop.
Improv advice: The world is big enough for everyone’s comedy. Business advice: The world is big enough for everyone’s contribution.
Here’s the funny thing I’ve noticed: The more parallels I see to other areas of my life, the more I want to study improv.
And I can’t wait to keep learning.
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.