Want to become more resilient in the face of a rapidly changing world? Take a page from the Improv playbook.
In addition to my role at The Frontier Project, I’m a professional improviser. I founded Richmond’s Coalition Comedy Theater and have been performing for 10 years. (You can catch me on stage most Friday and Saturday nights - I can probably get you a discount on tickets!)
Most people think Improv is all about making things up as you go. But that’s only part of the story. For good improvisers it’s not about coming on stage without preparing, it’s about coming on stage prepared for change. We call this skill “resilience,” and it serves me not just on the stage but in my work with our clients. Improv is about letting go of an idea when the situation changes so you can be ready to respond to new information in a way that makes sense to the audience and to your co-performers.
When I’m on stage, whatever I think is going to happen in a show almost never does. For many of my clients in the business world, this is becoming their reality as well.
In today’s rapidly-changing world the information we use today to plot tomorrow, is almost certain to change. We live in a world of moving targets. For more in this, just read anything by Thomas Friedman. So what do we do when the results we end up with look nothing like the result we planned (or hoped) for?
One response to this new reality I often see is attempts by organizations to become Futurists. The thinking goes, if they can collect enough data, think through enough outcomes, and create more contingency plans, they can be predict the future.
But this approach invariably leads to a dead end. Beyond the physical impossibility of preparing for all possible outcomes, even preparing for multiple outcomes can get expensive. I’m here to tell you there’s hope. The secret: take a page from the improviser’s playbook. Stop trying to prepare for a fixed outcome and learn to become comfortable no matter the outcome. Move away from trying to predict the future and toward being resilient in the face of that future.
In business, like on the improv stage, succeeding in a constantly changing environment is all about being nimble. Resilience allows you to reorient to the new data in real time, adjust your strategy, and develop a solution to move forward.
Resilience may feel like a step outside of your comfort zone. It will mean learning to put less emphasis on a future you can’t possibly predict in favor of acquiring the skills to rapidly adjust your course as change comes.
Matt Newman is a consultant, facilitator, and keynote speaker at The Frontier Project. He brings his experience as co-founder of a comedy theater in Richmond, VA to help teams learn how to use Improv to adapt to a rapidly-changing world.