Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Creative Leadership from the Inside Out: Applied Improvisation

In Michelle James' session, she led participants through improvisation techniques to help unlock creativity and innovation. We started with a warm-up called 3 elbows. When Michelle said, "3 elbows" the groups arranged themselves in a group of 3 elbows. Finding new partners each time, next came "4 knees, 11 hips (not lips, LOL), 3 fingers..." Why this activity as a warm-up? Any little physical moment, gets people into the moment and out of their heads.

Next, we talked about how improv helps leaders to become aware of how quickly they are to judge, or make meaning rather than making room for divergent space. Michelle invited participants to be present and not spend time thinking about why. Now for some techniques:

Yes, And
With this improv technique, participants formed groups of two. In their groups, participants took turns drawing one line each (and building upon it) to create a "living animal." In this non-verbal activity participants learned to suspend judgement (i.e. no talking).  In order to complete the activity, participants had to accept what their partner drew and build on the idea. Once the living animal was complete, participants took turns naming their being one letter at a time. The goal was to allow partners to make their teammates look good by accepting their offer and making the best of it.

Participants commented, Yes, and was..."fun." It gave us permission "to be silly." One of the things to take away from this activity is that our brains seek to make meaning, yet our brains don't give us enough time to live in the non-sensical space before making things concrete.

Serve the scene (or the good of the whole)
To serve the scene, rather than looking at how you're going to say or do something, look for what's best for the team in order to serve what's happening out there. In this activity, participants learned to serve the story and practice Yes, and.

Participants took turns adding to the plot about a trip to Mexico where something unexpected happened. After some time improvising, Michelle introduced a "freeze" where participants had to justify why what their partner said made sense (i.e. yes that was significant, because xxx, and then...). Adding a "freeze" helps ideas get bigger - the affirmation helped generate more ideas. A different way to conduct this activity is to use "that's brilliant because."

Breaking the Pattern
In groups of two, participants picked a subject and storyline to take turns adding to. After taking turns building on the story, Michelle directed participants to break the pattern by adding unexpected elements into the story and having their partners build upon them. To up the ante, Michelle suggested throwing in random words (i.e. if the story was about a goldfish, say "marshmallow") to see where the storyline would lead. Lastly, one partner had to bring the whole story together while the listening partner threw in "support" random words.

Alicia Arnold holds a Master of Science in Creativity, Innovation and Change Leadership from the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College and an M.B.A in Marketing from Bentley University. She enjoys writing about creativity and innovation and is published with Bloomberg Businessweek, the Huffington Post, The National Association of Gifted Children, and iMedia Connection. In her role as an award winning, digital marketer, she uses her passion for creativity and innovation to develop breakthrough digital and social experiences. You can connect with Alicia on Twitter @alicarnold.

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