Let’s play a game called work


Improv main

Sorry I’m late, but I had to infiltrate someone’s subconscious and plant an idea in his head so he’d decide to break up his father’s energy empire and I could go home to see my family. Wait! That’s the movie Inception. Okay, I’ll try again. Sorry I’m late, but my dream is to play hockey, even though I can’t skate. Still, I’ve got a wicked slap shot, but then I found out that my grandma’s house is going to be sold if I can’t pay up fast, so I’ve taken my canon of a drive to the Pro Golf Tour. Oh, hey, Happy Gilmore.

Did you get both of those? Then you just played an improv game! Didn’t guess them? Well, you still played, so that’s also great! I hope you had fun. I know I sure did. Back home in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that’s what I do when I’m away from the office. Improv comedy. And since joining the London studio for a month-long visit, I’ve been waxing poetic about the power of improv for fun and life and gaining perspective and all that good stuff – but also for business.

It’s no secret, as shared here in Fast Company. The skills improvisers use on the stage – listening to and supporting their partners, making one another look good, saying yes to an idea and building on it, acting as a catalyst for progress rather than a roadblock and so on – are exactly what businesses need to keep teams clicking internally to crank out exceptional work. After all, how can collaborative efforts progress when ideas are stifled and obstacles loom?

Simple. They don’t. Or they do, but with limited results. While improv is often funny business, it can seriously help your organization thrive. What follows is a two-part story about my overseas adventure with The Frameworks, and how I’ve been finding improv in all the right places.

Part 1. Hello, I am not local.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m at the London studio for a brief time and am adjusting to life here like any human being would. Finding grocery stores. Navigating trains. Eating food and sleeping at night. Smooth goings-on aside from my pronunciation, which is pretty dreadful and full of consonants that should be silent. For instance, I used to say "Dulwich" so it sounded like a sandwich, but I now know it to be "Dull itch". And when I asked for the train to Marylebone, well – I failed brilliantly. But London? As a city? Pretty divine.

One of my first outings in London was – no surprise – attending an improv show at The Comedy Store near Leicester (pronounced "Lester") Square. The Comedy Store Players nailed it. They created a Gabriel Garcia Marquez-inspired musical soap opera, using the suggested title "I Met Her in a Coffee Shop", on the spot, in under an hour. I was thrilled. The audience was thrilled. I left the theater with a belly full of laughs – and a few Stellas – and felt right at home.

Part 2. By day…

I’m in the London studio. A lit-by-natural-light studio with white walls, high ceilings, hardwood floors, my very own swivel chair and a herd of Frameworkers. Coming from Minneapolis, where improv is part of my everyday life – whether I’m performing shows, watching gigs, taking classes, talking shop at a jam or spinning scenes in my sleep – I think it’s safe to say I know an improviser when I see one. And it’s not just because of the secret handshake. It’s because of the “Yes, and” attitude. Listen. Agree. Build. And move forward.

I recognize it in the daily doings here at The Frameworks, how these maxims of improv as outlined by the likes of Tina Fey inhabit a Frameworker’s every action. Got an idea? Share it. Others will help you grow it. Have a challenge? Perfect. Your team is ready to tackle it in smart, ego-free fashion. Doors are open. Idea engines are humming. And business is getting done.

During my time at the London studio, I often wonder if I’m doing improv or work. The answer is yes – and so much more. Hard work can be fun, after all. It can be play. In fact, many organizations are finding that it should be.

Here’s to improv. And here’s to putting it to work.

(For the record, I would gladly take to the stage with any of my fellow Frameworkers, though none of them have accepted my offer… yet.)

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  • Working life