08 Mar 2013

“Bottom line, how will Improv increase our sales, improve our morale, or our team? What guarantees do we have that everyone is going to benefit from this training? What can we expect to see after your work with us is over? Will we be a more productive workforce? Can we measure that? Will our staff be able to produce more? Will we see sales rise? What can you promise us?”

A question I get asked a lot is “what will be my return on the investment?” It’s a question that wants a definitive answer. The mindset in business, education and almost every other sector of society is to get results. Results and planned outcomes is the exact opposite of Improv, yet results are achieved if you can keep focused on allowing process to change the individual, the group, and ultimately the culture.

Sometimes, in selling soft skills training, you encounter a potential client who intellectually understands that enhancing EQ (emotional aptitude quotient) is the product, but expects there to be more of a ‘hard skill’ outcome – i.e., measurable results. Hard skills can be measured and evaluated immediately by testing the competency of the learner, like IQ (intelligence quotient)

Soft Skills are more intangible, yet quite necessary; vital in fact. The rub lies in expecting too much from just one encounter with a motivational expert, or Improv workshop. When you treat soft skill training like a one-off training, both trainer and client have the expectation that it can be delivered like a hard skill. In the interest of expediency a trainer is forced to show “How”. This redefines improv as a hard skill. And everyone ends up expecting a certain result.

Showing how closes the door to self-discovery. You may know a hundred ways to do it, but your student may know the hundred and first!  — Viola Spolin

Avoid telling “How to do it”. Improv is a process and the more the player finds their way through the game on their own, without being shown, the more the player will ‘own’ the discovery and integrate it into their life and work. Showing how you would do it shuts off the possibility that your student or client discovers a new way: One that is derived from their own intuition and creativity. And it shows you to be the expert who has maybe had enough new experience improvising that you can only show how you would do it.

The creative act transforms the one who is in it. – Viola Spolin

Improvisation is the ultimate Soft Skill training

Soft Skills are behavioral competencies. Also known as Interpersonal Skills, or people skills, they include proficiencies such as communication skills, conflict resolution and negotiation, personal effectiveness, creative problem solving, strategic thinking, team building, influencing skills and selling skills, to name a few. Improvisation training incorporates all those skills.

But to get full value from it, improv practice must be employed consistently and that is very hard to get across in a corporate culture that usually does not make the time for its ability to transform the workplace. Improv is not a ‘class to go to in order to acquire a competency’ like math or operating a new piece of equipment. It needs to be adopted as part of the overall culture. This is a major problem in allowing Improv to work its magic on a group. Improv is a journey to the unknown where new ideas, new insights and new experiences are possible. The unknown can only be revealed without the expectation of achieving a result. It has to unfold at its own pace, given the circumstances of the individuals involved. Enlightenment comes when it comes and not as planned.

I would like to say “Sure, improv training will give you better sales and a good return on your investment in a matter of weeks! You’ll see.” This is what I’d like to say, but I can’t. This is the hurdle I face in trying to convince a decision maker who wants the information presented to them and needs to expect a certain outcome, without experiencing the process first hand.

I tell them “I can’t answer that question definitively. If I did I’d be a fraud. This is where their face falls and they begin looking for a more concrete solution or a promise of something that could be guaranteed after one session.

All I can say is that Improv at its least can be a way to teach certain semi-hard skills, like better, more effective communication and enhanced collaboration, but beyond the very practical aspects of skill acquisition, but I want to stress that Improv can be profoundly transformational on a personal and professional level.”

I have found that over time, everyone –even the most resistant to new experiences, can be influenced by the practice of being spontaneous, intuitive and physically and mentally involved. Improv helps them overcome the blocks presented by cultural conditioning. Conditioning that wants us to learn by rote, to seek approval for our work over personal satisfaction of a job well-done, and prevents the reinforcement of intellect over the intuitive.

Changing the Paradigm is a challenge

This process takes time. Spontaneity happens in a flash, but it does not happen on schedule. Anticipating a spontaneous moment will only keep it from emerging. But, through steady and regular games sessions structured to increase skills and deepen present-time experience, a new culture will emerge from the group, where creativity can flourish and spontaneous moments will occur with increasing frequency.

What this does to the individual is different for each individual. What it does for the community or players as a group is visible immediately. People are more relaxed, easy with each other and momentarily happier. The long-lasting effect cannot be seen right away, but I can guarantee it will be felt over time if practiced as a process without the expectation of ‘result’. Another guarantee I can give is this: “It will always take longer, the more one expects an outcome – a result and focuses on the ROI.”

Improvisation will change you if you let it. No guarantees on when, but I can promise you it will with practice and with a commitment to go beyond what you already know. All you need is a good coach and a grasp of what it means to play.