Applied Improvisation refers to a training and coaching method that takes concepts, methods and exercises from improv theatre and uses them to develop different behaviours and skills in a different (professional) environment.
Because improv theatre has developed itself in different ways and directions – thanks to different schools – there is no specific training format or blueprint that practitioners of applied improvisation need to follow. There is however a global network (the applied improvisation network) and there are some core concepts that all improvisers and school need to live by if they want to improvise well.
Because of this, every applied improvisation practitioner is able to design and apply his or her own method and verify what works in the environments they collaborate with.
Applied improvisation in practice
This type of training has strong positive effects in three main areas: teamwork, leadership and creativity/innovation.
Improvisers are nothing but a team working together, and a team that needs to stick together and collaborate under conditions of maximum uncertainty and pressure. In a show, in fact, there is literally nothing else you can rely on apart from your partners, therefore it becomes essential to work in agreement. Applied improvisation training takes some of the exercises that are at the basis of this type of teamwork and collaboration and makes them applicable to non-theatre teams, enabling them to test and experience this type of work and transpose it into their everyday life.
Improvisers have no leader on stage – or better said they use shared leadership and operate as a self-organizing team. The role of the leader is taken by the person who is fit to lead the scene at any moment, and everyone recognizes that choice and is immediately on board with it. This leadership style is extremely effective when it comes to highly uncertain situations with added time pressure: seeing this in practice via applied improvisation would enable the team to safely navigate conditions of organizational improvisation, that is contexts where action must be taken without planning as time does not allow it. Applied improvisation workshops can help teams understand shared leadership in a safe environment.
Creativity and Innovation
Improvisers (and applied improvisation trainers that have put in the work!) have been identified as the most creative professional category, generating 20% more ideas than professional product designers of a 25% higher creative quality (MIT Study, 2010). This is not because of a process they use, but because of the skills they have built practicing idea generation, association, storytelling, listening and communicating clearly. Using applied improvisation training with a creativity focus can introduce those concepts to a team and enable them to practice and incorporate them in their ideation process – e.g. design thinking. Applied improvisation in this case would not substitute existing creative processes, but will provide creative skills that it wouldn’t be possible to develop otherwise, regardless of the used method.