By: Chuck Frey
What does improvisation have to do with the needs of business today? Plenty, says improv expert Jay Rhoderick, who shares some practical strategies for using it to break out of our rutted thinking and generate new insights.
Interview #14 in the Creativity in Business Thought Leader Series is with Jay Rhoderick, President of Bizprov, Inc. – a unique, dynamic corporate training consulting firm that uses the core principles of improvisational theater in business.
Jay has taught improvisation to hundreds of managers, executives and professionals at all levels for fifteen years. He has strengthened teams, developed public speaking and collaboration skills, and engendered new modes of creativity at many leading firms and organizations, such as Dow Jones, HSBC, Merck, Citigroup, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Pearlfisher, and the United States Olympic Committee and athletes among others.
A seasoned improviser, Jay is a founder and performer with the legendary long-form improv NYC troupe, Centralia, which was recently recognized as Best Long Form group from Improvisation News.
Q: How does your work with improvisation apply to business?
Rhoderick: Improvisation is about risk-taking and a combination of being open to new ideas and ways of doing things as well exploiting them in a meaningful, useful and connected way. In my work encouraging professionals to create instant alignment and positive “yes-based” collaboration with each other, I see clients making choices in subtle moments to avoid the traps of asking lazy questions and instead give information to make leaps together. Clients make strong intellectual and emotional offers, they actively listen to each other and heighten resonant ideas and relationships when they emerge. A decision must be made each moment: how to respond creatively to interesting ideas and offers.
Improvisers are curious to figure out how, to take risks, to celebrate creative errors and audacity, because it is through this courageous curiosity and exploration that we reveal new business opportunities and values.
Q: What do you see as the new paradigm of work?
Rhoderick: For years, technology has connected our society and economy and revolutionized communication and creativity. Connectivity, though, is emerging in more and more complicated and adaptive modes. Only partly as a result of the fractured job market, each of us is developing a personal brand (in online profiles and networks, self-assessment, etc.) and each brand creates custom “app’s” to connect outwardly.
We customize our engagement styles with tasks and information in increasingly inventive ways. Feedback is 360 degrees with more sensitivity and entry points and thus ever more comprehensive.
As workers and bosses see each other in a more holistic, multi-faceted way, it makes possible more moves, often in unexpected directions. The complexity grows more chaotic, but we’re also getting, as Lewis Carroll said, “curiouser and curiouser.”
We are seeking out and discovering unexpected ways and algorithms so as to adapt our personal brands, skills and interests to custom-arrange new connection points. We’re creating more and more hybrid projects and products, because we are becoming more curious in our connectivity and innovation. It’s a recombinant cycle.
Q: What do you see the role of creativity in that paradigm?
Rhoderick: Work and commercial resources are more readily available, decentralized and sub-franchised. In this broad tendency toward connectivity, there is a spirit of improvisation – being open to finding and devising new ways forward that are adaptive rather than reactionary. Navigating connections with curiosity allows us as workers to see more possibilities and open more doors.
Being creative in our curiosity helps us develop flexibility, resilience and flow as we make more and more micro-decisions on how to exploit potential connections to people, products, and ideas. We can creatively deal with customers, fearlessly experiment with new competitive strategies, and make connections we hadn’t considered before.
Q: What attitudes and behaviors do you see as essential for effectively navigating the new work paradigm?
Rhoderick: The improvisational approach means listening and reacting without pre-planning, being curious, exploring without foreclosing options, and inviting our collaborators to discover exciting and valuable things with us without prejudice or micromanagement. All of these are essential to effectively flow within the world’s matrix of connections.
Q: What is one technique that people could start applying today to bring more creativity into their work or their business organization?
Rhoderick: A great entry-point exercise for an individual (or for a group playing in a round-robin format) is Rant/Rave/Dream/Nightmare and it works on 4 poles of point-of-view, pushing them as far as possible in order to search for a clearer truth located in the middle. It’s a creative form of overkill and can break us out of stale thought patterns.
To do it, you say out loud (or write, or both, but saying aloud is better) in full emotion what you really hate (rant) about something. Make it a fast, shouted brainstormed list! Then you can say what’s super-great about a thing (rave), then what’s utterly terrifying about it (nightmare–and let out your inner 3-year-old on this), and finally what a thing can do to make the world a wonderful place (dream).
The topic can be one thing for all for brainstorms, or you can switch randomly, and you shouldn’t feel bound to realistic thoughts. This is overkill, and you should give yourself permission to be unreasonable in your feelings and point of view. Try playing Devil’s Advocate and rant about what you actually love, or have a nightmare about something truly harmless, etc. It’s funny, and it breaks down compartmentalized thinking by suggesting new POV extremes.
Q: Finally, what is creative leadership to you?
Rhoderick: By using the core principles of improvisation – collaboration, curiosity, humble openness and exploration – and approaching improvisation diligently and with joy, workers react more flexibly and spontaneously, and they become early adopters and change agents for their firms. They create valuable opportunities and connections for themselves and their firm. They’re leaders.
As leaders, we invite more ideas, make confident and creative decisions, defuse conflict and embody openness. Thus we discover synergies, react nimbly to surprises, and are in the moment but also forward-thinking. Creative leaders make work an intriguing journey.
You can reach Jay Rhoderick at the Bizprov website. The Creativity in Business Thought Leader Interview Series is developed and conducted by business creativity catalyst, Michelle James, CEO of The Center for Creative Emergence.