Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 6

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Ideas

Idea sharing is essential in an innovative team. The more ideas are shared in the group the more creative and novel ideas are triggered. And if these ideas build on one another the team will come up with a much more creative and meaningful idea than one team member could have come up with by themselves. But why is it that in some teams it feels like your creativity is diminished? Or the creative ideas are not much better than one individual’s idea. It is because in such teams the members don’t feel safe to participate in idea sharing. How can an atmosphere be created in which team members feel safe to share their ideas? Actors in an Improvisation theater group creates this atmosphere by applying the “yes and” principle. The “yes and” principle means that when your team members shares an idea you accept it (yes the idea) and then build on it. When an idea is not accepted it is called a “block”. The way we often block one another is by saying “yes but”. Most people are more used to saying “yes but” than “yes and”. Every time someone shares an idea and it is blocked by another team member the likelihood that the person will share another idea is diminished. Therefore to create an atmosphere that promotes idea sharing start applying the “yes and” principle.

Right now you might think “yes, but I can’t say yes to all ideas all the time.” Yes and you might be saying this because you are already in a mindset of “blocking” rather than “accepting”. It is true there are appropriate times to block, but they are far less than appropriate times to accept. Try the “yes and” principle for a day and see what happens. The “yes and “principle is more a mindset than anything else. It is a mindset of accepting reality and doing something useful with it.


Quick exercise:

Let everyone pair up with a partner. Tell them that together they have to plan a company Christmas party. One must start by sharing an idea. The other replies with the words “Yes but”, a reason why it is not a good idea, and then share another idea. The first then replies with “yes but” and so they go back and forth blocking each other’s ideas. After a while stop them and ask them to plan the same party but this time instead of saying yes but they must start their sentences with “yes and”, accepting the other’s idea and building on it. Reflect on the exercise and ask the following questions.

How did accepting feel different from blocking?

How were their outcomes different?

How did they feel about the other person when being blocked or being accepted?

What are the benefits and the costs of accepting?

What are the benefits and costs of blocking?

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Click here for more information about our Team Innovation workshops.

Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 5

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Relationship

How to build team relationships that promote innovation.

The relationships between the members of an innovative team are based on trust and support. Your responsibility towards yourself is to be trusting and trustworthy, whilst your responsibility towards the rest of the team is to support them. The phrase we use in Improvisation to describe this element is “make your partner look good”. When everyone in the team is out to make the rest of the team look good it creates a safe environment where everyone feels safe to share new ideas. We are so used to just making our selves look good, but if you know that everyone in your team is out to make you look good it takes a lot of pressure from your shoulders and it builds trust between you and the rest of the team. Besides ,everyone in the team will look amazing if there are 10 others making them look good instead of everyone just trying to make themselves look better than the rest.

Quick exercise:

Here is a fun game from improvisation theatre that illustrates the “make your partner look good” concept very well. The game is called “Yes lets!” For this exercise you need enough space for everyone to move around. The game starts with anyone in the group making a suggestion for an action such as “Let’s climb a tree!” or “lets bake a cake!” Everyone then replies with the words “Yes lets!”, and mimes the action with enthusiasm. At any point someone else can make a new suggestion and everyone replies again with “Yes lets!”

The best way to make your team members look good is by accepting their suggestions and doing the action with enthusiasm. If someone said something like “let’s roar like lions” and just did it by himself, he would look like a fool and probably feel like one as well. What I love about this game is that you don’t just say yes I like your idea; you actually have to accept the idea by doing something with commitment. Often we will say we accept someone’s ideas but it’s just lip service, because we don’t actually take any action. The safety, trust and support that is generated when everyone in the team is committed to making the rest of the team look good, creates a energetic atmosphere in which innovation can thrive.

Make your partner look good story

Last night my wife told me a beautiful story about how a family made their mother look good by accepting an offer and doing something with it. In this story the offer the mother made wasn’t an idea; it was a reality that was imposed on her without her choice. She was diagnosed with throat cancer. In her final week her last wish was to have a meal with her family, since she loved cooking and sharing dinner with her loved ones. She couldn’t swallow the food because of the cancer and therefore had to spit it out after chewing it. Seeing this, her family also spat out their food after chewing. They made her look good by accepting her reality and doing it with her. Accepting other’s reality, whether it is their creativity, personality or hardship and doing something with it is how you show real acceptance and that is how you build trust in your relationships with others.

More on trust

People often tell me that they can’t trust others because the others aren’t trustworthy. What comes first, trust or trustworthiness? People will say others must earn their trust. Does that mean you treat them untrustworthy until they have earned your trust? People will react in the way that you treat them. If you treat someone as untrustworthy, they will act untrustworthy. But what if you trust someone and they disappoint you? That is where grace comes in, because you know you are also not perfect and also not always 100% trustworthy. Accept the mistake and do something with it. The more trusting you are going to be the more trustworthy the people in your team will become.

Improvisation class 9 – 29 June

Tuesday night was the last class of my second Level 1 improv class. What a blast! We just played performance games. I’m so proud of everyone. All the scenes you did would have pleased an audience. The first game we played was Spotlight. This game illustrated that to improvise you just need to step in, do something with confidence and trust the process. It reminded me of started my own business. The only way to get over the fear is to make a strong choice and stick to it.

Next we played Freez tag. Everyone came up with very strong characters and Minki’s scene of the two people on either side of a wall was really beautiful. This game again showed how important it is to step up and let your body think for you. When you stand on the side and try to think of something clever you struggle. But if you step up without an idea, take the position and just see what happens you come up with much more creative ideas.

The next game we played was One Word Interview. In this game an interviewer interviews a two headed expert who is played by two other players who has to answer all the questions one word at a time. Luci (interviewer), Liezel and Franz’s scene about Pinokio was hilarious. They accepted each other’s offers so beautifully and picked strong interesting characters.

The last game for the night was Party game. In this game one player is hosting a party. 3 Other players each get an interesting characteristic such as a movie or theatre style, famous person or kitchen appliance. The host doesn’t know what the characteristics are and must try to figure it out through his interaction with his guests. I thought it was hilarious when Nolan thought that Ruan was an Oriental Opera singer.

Thanks again for everyone’s committed and enthusiastic participation. I really enjoyed teaching this class.

I would really appreciate it if everyone who participated in the class would answer the following feedback questions as a comment here on the blog.

1. In what why did the class have an influence on your life?
2. Would you recommend the class to others? Why?
3. What do you think could prevent others from participating in an improvisation class?
4. What exercise or game did you like the most?
5. What exercise or game did you like the least?

Thanks yall. hope to see you 27 July in my level 2 class.

Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 4

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.

Control

There must be a lot of give and take in a team in order for the team to be innovative. One person cannot have all the control while the rest just follow instructions. It is therefore a fine balancing act between taking control and giving up control. Taking control is about taking initiative, while giving up control is about letting go of your own idea when it is no longer serving the bigger picture. Some people are natural control freaks (or more commonly referred to as a natural leader) others are natural fence sitters (commonly referred to as natural followers). Both control freaks and fence sitters are often driven by fear and a lack of trust. I believe that the art of leadership is about knowing when to take control and knowing when to let go. If you are a control freak you need to learn to let go and trust others. If you are a fence sitter you need to take initiative and trust your own abilities.

Quick exercise:

Let everyone pair up with another person and stand facing each other. Each pair should decide who will be A and who will be B. Tell them that A is a person looking into a mirror and B is the mirror. B should therefore copy A’s exact movement. The idea is not that A should try and outwit B by making sudden movements. The idea is that they work together and move like they are one so that an observer wouldn’t be able to see who is leading and who is following. After a few minutes let them switch. A is therefore now the mirror and B the person looking into the mirror. After B had a chance to lead for a few minutes, tell them that they have to now both lead and follow at the same time. They are therefore both looking into the mirror and being the mirror simultaneously. Now it gets really interesting. For it to work both need to take the lead and give up the lead, give and taking control the whole time. When you get to that point you go into a state of flow in which you don’t even know anymore who is leading and who is following. It is in this state of flow that team innovation can truly thrive. You can try this exercise with your partner at home as well. In any healthy relationship there should be a constant give and take of control.


Click here to read part 1 – Introduction

Click here to read part 2 – Communication
Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Watch this space for parts 5, 6, 7 and 8

Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 3

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.

Risk

For a team to be innovative individuals in the team must take risks and help the others to feel safe to take risks. Most people are terrified of taking risks because they are afraid of failing and how others will react when they fail. So in order to protect ourselves from others we rather not take any risks. The irony is that some of the most revolutionary inventions started out as a failure. Just think of penicillin that was invented when a scientist noticed that his “failed” experiment was killing bacteria. Or post-it notes that was invented when a researcher of 3M who wanted to develop a very strong adhesive just created a somewhat sticky substance. His colleague accepted the “mistake” and used it to stick his bookmark in his hymn book. In improvisation we say “everything is an offer”, even a so called mistake. Your responsibility towards yourself to help create an innovative team climate is to take risks. Your responsibility toward your team members is to accept their failures and do something with it.

Quick exercise:

Before you start your next brainstorming session let everyone stand in a circle. Tell them that everyone will get the chance to step forward into the circle, then say anything in the line of “I made a mistake” or “I failed” and then give a big bow. The rest of the group must then give a round of applause. This exercise is called circus bow, because whenever a trapeze artist makes a mistake and falls down into the net, he will make a summersault out of the net and bow towards the audience as if that was exactly what was supposed to happen. Ask the following debrief questions:

How did that make you feel being applauded for stating that you made a mistake?

How did it feel to applaud the others?

What can we learn from this exercise?

How can we help each other to take risks?


Click here to read part 1 – Introduction

Click here to read part 2 – Communication
Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Click here to read part 4 – Control

Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 2

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.

Communication

In order for a team to be creative together there needs to be a lot of interaction and information sharing.  This can only happen if the communication in the team is very good.  Your responsibility towards yourself is to be fully present and your responsibility toward your team members is to fully listen and be aware of them.   Being fully present and aware of your team members is referred to in Improvisation as “being in the moment”.

Quick exercise:

Next time before you start a meeting first do the following exercise.  Split the group in small groups of 3.  Tell them that each person must tell the other 2 in the group what they need to say to be fully present.  They should start their sentence with “what I need to say to be fully present is….”  One of the other must then mirror that persons exact words by starting their sentence with “I hear that what you have to say to be fully present is…”  It is important that the person mirroring does not give an interpretation of what they heard, but try to use the exact same words as far as possible.  The other person in the group can then add if any detail was not mirrored back to the speaker.  Each person must get a chance to say what they need to say to be fully present.  The exercise is not so much about saying what you need to say to be present, but being listened to fully without judgment.  When we listen to people like this we help them to become fully present.  In essence what we are doing is accepting them and showing them that they are welcome and worth being listened to.  When last did someone listen to you completely and made you feel fully present? When last did you listen to someone with acceptance and without judgment, helping them to be completely present?


Click here to read part 1 – Introduction

Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Click here to read part 4 – Control

To read more about the other 6 elements of an innovative team climate watch this space.

Team innovation through improvisation – Part 1

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.

Introduction


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Changes in business environments have resulted in a need for the development of innovative teams, because it is through teams that the management of change through innovation is achieved. One of the factors that play a crucial role in the innovation shown by teams is the climate for innovation within the team. This climate is the same as the climate prevalent in an improvisation theatre group who respond to ideas from their audience, fellow actors and the scenario quickly and creatively and in collaboration with one another. Research has shown that the exercises used by improvisation actors can be used to enhance the innovative climate in a work team. Neuroscience also supports improvisation as an experiential learning tool. Applied improvisation is an emerging field and business schools all over the world are starting to include it as part of their leadership and innovation courses.

The 7 crucial elements of an innovative team climate:

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There are 7 elements that play an important role in an innovative team climate. These elements are Communication, Risk, Control, Ideas, Relationship, Vision and Excellence. In each of these elements each team member has a responsibility towards him/herself and a responsibility towards his/her team members. All of these elements are interrelated and need to work together to create an innovative team climate.

Watch this space for a discussion of each of these elements.

Click here to read part 2 – Communication
Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Click here to read part 4 – ControlIntroduction

Developing six new senses for the future

In his ground breaking book A Whole New Mind Daniel Pink references three prevailing trends pointing towards the future of business and the economy: Abundance (consumers have too many choices, nothing is scarce), Asia (everything that can be outsourced, is) and Automation (computerization, robots, technology, processes).

This brings up three crucial questions for the success of any business:

  1. Can a computer do it faster?
  2. Is what I’m offering in demand in an age of abundance?
  3. Can someone overseas do it cheaper?

When these questions are present, creativity becomes the competitive difference that can differentiate commodities. Pink outlines six essential senses:

  1. Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense.
  2. Story – Narrative added to products and services – not just argument.
  3. Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  4. Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  5. Play – Bringing humour and light-heartedness to business and products.
  6. Meaning – Relevant feelings and values connected to a person’s passion and purpose..

Playing Mantis specialises in both story and play.

Storytelling

storytelling
Story is the skill to simplify that which is complex and organise it into a sense making whole. It also helps you to make concrete those aspects of your reality that is abstract and hard to grasp. When it comes to relationships and team work, the way that story places characters in sense making relationships with one another highlighting the causes of conflict and their resolution, can be of great help in managing business relationships.

Similarly the way in which storytellers organises human attributes and role functions into archetypes, can be of great use in understanding the different roles people play in your life. Stories can also assist you in understanding how you can develop your own character by looking at how the hero of a story grows and develops.  This can greatly assist in leadership skills development.

What makes this sense so accessible is the fact that we all already use it. The way in which you relate your day and how it went to your partner before bedtime, the way in which you tell a colleague about your weekend or how you sum up an overseas trip all carry the characteristics of a well made story. You pick a theme and select scenes to support and carry that theme. You populate your story with characters that either worked with or against you. You shape it with a beginning middle and end. In fact, any experience can be made sense of in retrospect by organising it into a story, Even the most confusing and emotional experiences, perhaps especially these experiences,  are made sense of by trying to organise it into a story.

Story is also the way in which we remember things and make sense of the world by linking seemingly unrelated events and ideas. Simple lists of facts do not make sense to us, but linking them with cause and effect turn the facts into one story and makes it memorable. The king died and then the queen died, are two seemingly unrelated facts, but saying that the king died and then the queen died of grief, immediately makes it into a story by adding an emotional component that link the two facts logically. We all do this with things we read and learn and experience. It is a sense well worth cultivating and understanding so that its power can be utilised in areas of our lives where meaning still escape us.

Kids playing with blocks

Play, on the other hand, is the most effective way of learning, working and enjoying it.  It is the way in which children learn. It is their method of organising their worlds into sense making sections. Through play they discover how the world works and what their own place in it is. And while their games are fun and light-hearted, they take it very seriously. Improvisational Theatre utilises the same characteristics of play in a way that makes it accessible and usable for adults. Through this kind of play it is possible to learn how to deal with things that happen in your life that is hard to make sense of – especially if the situation ask you to change how you have done things or understood things until now.

Again improvisation is something we all are able to do in ordinary circumstances. When unforeseen things happen and you have to adjust your plan, you improvise. When someone asks you a question you sort of know the answer to, but not quite, you improvise. When you are cooking and discover that you miss a certain ingredient, you improvise. You use what you have and, maybe more importantly, you use what others have to offer. Honing these skills can greatly help you in dealing with change and uncertainty so that you are less apprehensive and are able to trust you own ability to adjust.

Perhaps even more poignant is that improvisation helps you to remain light-hearted and playful amidst times of stress and confusion. The playful attitude is not the same as being frivolous and superficial, but rather one of great seriousness, but with a certain detachment to the outcome. Think again of the seriousness with which children engage in play. To them it is not at all unimportant and inconsequential. Marrying work and play is the goal of cultivating the sense of play in business..

The other four senses of empathy, symphony, design and meaning all are cultivated during the workshops where we create a creative experience for learning. This experience aims to involve all of the multiple intelligences including emotion (empathy), sprit (meaning,), lateral thinking (symphony) and aesthetic judgement (design)

Summary of benefits:

The most important reasons for using story and improvisation both for team building and for dealing with change relate to the kind of play that is stimulated by these activities. This kind of play

  • Unlocks hidden potential, opens up all your intelligences and puts you in touch with your instinct and intuition,
  • Enhances focus and effectiveness and provides a sense of purpose which is absorbing and motivating,
  • Raises self esteem and self confidence and rekindles your spontaneity,
  • Inspires individual and group creativity, forms a communal paradigm and lets group knowledge surface,
  • Provides understanding and insight into fellow players and creates common focus and priorities while allowing for the safe expression of feelings,
  • Clarifies and simplifies things that are abstract and complicated and produces innovative solutions.

We will teach you this kind of play, help you to reflect on its significance for you and apply the skills you learn to your real life situation.