The Improvisation Edge: Secrets to Building Trust and Radical Collaboration at Work [NOOK Book]


There are all kinds of books about building trust. But The Improvisation Edge is the only one that draws on the wisdom of those who are truly experts in the dynamics of trust-building: theatrical improvisers. Think about it: other than combat, no situation requires more extreme trust than improvisation. You have no script, costumes or set—nothing to depend on but your fellow improvisers. When you collaborate on such an intense level you ...
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The Improvisation Edge: Secrets to Building Trust and Radical Collaboration at Work

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There are all kinds of books about building trust. But The Improvisation Edge is the only one that draws on the wisdom of those who are truly experts in the dynamics of trust-building: theatrical improvisers. Think about it: other than combat, no situation requires more extreme trust than improvisation. You have no script, costumes or set—nothing to depend on but your fellow improvisers. When you collaborate on such an intense level you intrinsically engender trust.

Karen Hough describes four principles that will help leaders, managers, trainers, and front-line employees adopt the improviser’s mindset. You’ll learn techniques to create a positive environment, encourage fearless participation and selfless collaboration, play to your own and your colleagues’ strengths, and turn surprises, mistakes and disasters into opportunities for something new, unexpected and maybe better than you planned. The Improvisation Edge offers a fun, engaging and very hands-on way to build the kind of organizational trust and collaboration that makes breakthrough business results possible.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Improvisation isn’t just key to the comedy business—it can be a key to any business. Karen brings classic improv principles to the world of business with great intelligence and humor.”
—Steve Bodow, Co-Executive Producer and former head writer, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and seven-time Emmy Award winner

“Hough does an amazing job of explaining how to translate the energy of an improv troupe from the stage to the workplace. The impact is both practical and powerful, not to mention fun.”
—Jerry Stritzke, President and Chief Operating Officer, Coach

“I am responsible for the development of 60,000 leaders at US Bank and have not seen any approach that provides a better context for individual, team, and organizational development.”
—Sonny Randall, Leadership Development Manager, US Bank, and President, Central Ohio Chapter, ASTD

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781605096605
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 200
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Karen Hough is the founder and CEO of ImprovEdge, a company that creates learning experiences, training and consulting using improvisation to teach business skills. For many years a senior sales executive in the networking engineering industry, she has also been a professional improviser and actor for 20 years, including training at Chicago’s legendary Second City.
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Table of Contents

Audience for Book
Author Bio
Author Residence
IPS-Contributors Bios
IPS-Descr, Brief-125
IPS-Descr, Full-400
IPS-Descr, Half-525
IPS-Key Selling, Full-350
IPS-Key Selling, Half-175
IPS-Sales Hook
Key Selling Points 1
Sales Hook
Table of Contents
Title Description
Title Description, Brief

Prologue - Believing in My Idea When No One Else Did
Chapter One - Realty Hits But No Turning Back
Chapter Two - Hitting Rock Bottom and Rebounding
Chapter Three - Turning Obstacles into Openings
Chapter Four - Not Just about Me Anymore
Chapter Five - Halfway Point Is Getting Rough
Chapter Six - Hitting My Stride and Taking Control
Chapter Seven - Returning a Different Person
Chapter Eight - New Curves and Bumps in the Road
Chapter Nine - Adapting to New and Different Cultures
Chapter Ten - Hitting Curveballs
Chapter Eleven - Finishing a Journey and Embarking on New Dreams
Epilogue - A Lesson From America
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First Chapter

The Improvisation Edge

Secrets to Building Trust and Radical Collaboration at Work
By Karen Hough

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Karen Hough
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-60509-585-1

Chapter One

The First Secret of Improvisation

Yes! Space Imagine ... You are backstage at a theater, listening to the sound of an excited crowd taking their seats out front. As you stare at the empty stage, you suddenly realize that you have no script, no costume, no props. You look around at the shadowed faces of the other people backstage, and from their nervousness you realize that they also have no idea what's going to happen next. Suddenly, the lights dim in the house and go up onstage. It's your cue. You have to go out! You're pulled onstage by the motion of the people behind you. One of your troupe members steps up to the lip of the stage and says, "I need a one-word contribution." Someone in the back of the audience shouts, "Vegetables!" The audience laughs mildly and your troupe member accepts it. "Great! Vegetables is our subject!" He steps back. Then nothing else happens. The faces of the audience regard you and the silence feels crushing. You've got to do something! So, without a net, you step out and proclaim, "I feel like a rutabaga!" The crowd titters, but you don't know what to say next. Silence stretches out in front of you and you start to get warm around the armpits. Before you know it, a hand slaps you on the shoulder and one of your troupe says, "Yes, and you look like one, too!" The crowd laughs ...

Does this sound like a nightmare? A movie script? A joke?

Actually, it's what happens every night to an improvisational actor. Improvisation is an art form that demands that a troupe of performers walk onstage in front of an audience when they literally do not know what is going to happen next. The troupe onstage asks the audience to supply ideas for characters, a plotline, a style of music, a current event, anything. Taking that idea from the audience, the troupe starts to create a show, play, comedy scene, or game. The troupe members think entirely on their feet, making it up as they go along. They really never know, from moment to moment, what the other troupe members might say or do. They just have to go with it and make the performance work.

I've spoken to people who have watched improv and can barely believe it's real. "How do they do that?" they say, or "It's incredible that they can come up with all of that stuff on the fly. It must be a special talent!" or "There has to be a trick."

The truth is, there are a few tricks. But these tricks are actually a solid set of guidelines that make it possible for improvisers to work wonders. They are simple, effective, and impressive. And you, too, can use those guidelines in your work and life to improve performance, collaborate radically, and build trust.

When we adopt the improviser's mind-set and behaviors, we create trust every day, moment by moment, in the workplace. We will dive into the specific definitions, secrets, and behaviors of improvisation that I have seen applied in the workplace for over a decade.

We all improvise, every day. Every time we deal with an unexpected setback in the office or collaborate on a great project with our team, we are using behaviors grounded in improvisation. Wouldn't it be nice to know how to do it well, like the professionals? And while we're improvising, wouldn't it also be incredible if we could build a strong, effective, and supportive network of trust?

To do so, we need to explore the key secrets of improvisation.

In the onstage scene described above, you and your fellow improvisers were a living example of the first secret of improvisation, Yes! Space. A troupe of improvisers can build a game, a scene, or an entire one-act play in the moment because they have agreed to say yes.

The Yes! Space concept allows for endless possibility, and is very easy to accomplish. To fully understand what happens in Yes! Space, let's break it down into components:

* Say yes * Put the critic on hold * Make it public

Say Yes

The very action of saying the word yes is critical to improvisation. It's also key to building a collaborative space where people believe they can take risks and be creative. Saying yes is an effective tool for both the improv stage and the workplace.

Think about the vegetable scene onstage. As you remember, you were onstage, in the spotlight. There was no question that you had to act, even though there was no plan. You blurted out the first thing that came to you: "I feel like a rutabaga!" Then one of your troupe members joined you in the scene. She immediately agreed with you. She said, "Yes, and you look like one, too." The very first word your troupe member said was yes. You experienced Yes! Space. It's really that simple. Your contribution to the performance, being a rutabaga, was immediately accepted. No assessments, no lifted brow, no devil's advocate. Just "Yes!"

The power of that little word is amazing. By taking the action to say the word yes you have entered into positive possibilities.

This power of yes is not a new concept, and it is not confined to improvisation. Many modern disciplines have explored the concept of positive power, and they all agree on the transformational power of positivity. Unfortunately, positivity runs counter to our natural propensity to be negative, and it takes work. For example, researchers have discovered that we actually are wired for negativity in our language and culture. Of 558 emotion words in English, 62 percent are negative. And when people are shown photos of bad or good occurrences, we spend a longer time viewing the bad ones.

We have to work harder to learn to use Yes! Space. That might mean getting comfortable with a little discomfort. But the benefits are very much worth the work.

* yes is a world & in this world of yes live (skillfully curled) all worlds FROM E. E. CUMMINGS, "LOVE IS A PLACE"

Getting to Yes is the Harvard Business School study and book on collaborative negotiation. It changed the face of negotiations and opened a new space for both sides to find the best result in a negotiation. The work of these authors overturned the notion that negotiations must be confrontational, difficult events.

Dale Carnegie based his blockbuster How to Win Friends and Influence People on the concept that smiling and expressing a genuine curiosity for others can lead to personal success in life and more sales in business. Consistently questioning and seeking to serve the other person's needs builds safe environments and relationships and makes sales. People prefer to give their money to people and organizations they trust.

Stephen Young, the author of MicroMessaging, discusses the great effect of microscopic positive behavioral changes. 5 Simply by nodding, making eye contact, or saying a person's name with respect, Young contends, you have the power to influence how others perceive that person. So the act of saying yes in your slightest inflections, and in a public way, can have a gigantic effect on another person's confidence and success.

The concept of appreciative inquiry contends that, rather than seeking to solve problems in a corporate environment, companies need to focus relentlessly on what they're doing right. That upon which you focus, grows. Under the power of the growth of the good stuff , the bad stuff will minimize.

The combination of Yes! Space and appreciative inquiry had a great influence on one of the nation's top children's hospitals. In 2008, the hospital was undergoing major changes in both clinical and administrative functions. We created an improvisational engagement that enabled participants from all areas of the hospital to focus on their ultimate goal: better patient outcomes. During times of great change in organizations, we often see consistently negative behaviors and competition. By embracing the improviser's mindset and behaviors of Yes! Space, this hospital staff was able to approach the change phase positively and collaboratively.

In the improvisational mind-set, any contribution, no matter how ridiculous, is greeted with immediate agreement. As an improviser, I could trust that if I stepped out onstage and shouted, "I'm the queen of Sheba!" all of my troupe members would say, "Yes, you are!" and start treating me like the queen.

By voicing the word yes, you are saying yes to possibility. Yes is not a literal commitment, as in "Yes, we will." It is a commitment to considering a possibility, as in "Yes, we could." This means that every idea or contribution is considered valid. No one sneers, shakes her head, or says no the moment an idea pops out of someone's mouth. The improviser's belief that every idea is valid also assumes that every person is valid. Simply because an idea has been contributed, improvisers believe it is imperative to acknowledge its existence and importance by saying yes to both the idea and the person. Saying yes becomes a reflex for improvisers, and it can become a reflex for you.

The particular idea offered may not be the one we pursue. We have simply agreed that it could be one we pursue and that we will explore it together. By agreeing to give it a chance to live and breathe, even for two minutes, we have said yes to its possibility.

Saying yes is imperative for improvisation because the performance would never go anywhere if we kept denying ideas. When I shout, "I'm the queen of Sheba," my troupe member could say, "No, that's not a good idea. Let's be mechanics instead. I know all about mechanics but I don't know anything about the queen of Sheba, and neither do you." After that, another troupe member could say, "Mechanics aren't funny. Let's sing a song instead."

Can you imagine how dumb that would look onstage? Time would be wasted, the audience would be confused, and the troupe would not be working as a team, only as individuals out for themselves.

Yes! Space and saying yes means that we are going to get the performance rolling right away. Because there are no preconceived notions about what must happen, as there is in a scripted show, we can accept anything. And by accepting every possibility, at least for a while, the performance moves quickly and efficiently.

What does the say yes reflex mean for everyday encounters? Whenever I work with groups, the event organizers approach me afterward to discuss the high level of engagement: "So many people spoke up! We had people contributing who had never engaged in a training session before! How do you do it?"

I say yes. That's how I do it.

The first word out of my mouth, every time someone contributes, is yes. When that happens, the group learns that it's safe to share. They realize that they won't be criticized or ignored, and suddenly they want to start being a part of the conversation. When I ask open-ended questions, there often are moments of silence until some brave soul decides to fill the silence. When they are greeted with agreement, they feel validated, strong, and they contribute again. Then the people around them start to contribute and soon you have a room full of interacting people.

Try it sometime. You'll be amazed at the exponential increase in engagement.

When we say yes, we're agreeing that others have the right to air their ideas, and we are saying yes to possibility. As the session progresses, we may debate the idea or change to another topic, but we can always agree that a person's contribution was worthwhile by saying yes in that moment. This can be particularly effective when people are struggling or need to share something difficult. By saying yes, we can create a place in which it is safe for everyone to share.

I remember a particular session when my ensemble was working with groups from an insurance company that included call center personnel, managers, and even board members. We had a tight time frame in which to teach a few concepts. One woman who had not spoken up during the entire session responded to our discussion of Yes! Space by saying that she felt ignored by her colleagues and that people never thanked her for her hard work. She was, by nature, a rather gruff person.

I said, "Yes, and that must be hard for you. What more can you tell us about your feelings on this?" She shared that she loved her work and really wanted people to recognize her accomplishments. At that point, other members of the group chimed in and said they would agree to be her sounding board. One man even said, "Yes, I noticed your good work. I'm sorry I never commented on it."

The conversation was cathartic and positive, and in a few minutes the woman asked me to continue with the exercise, for which she volunteered.

The point here is not so much her response as the response of the in-house trainer after the session. She thanked me for managing the event and then singled out that particular moment in the session.

"I would have been so scared!" she said. "I would have just tried to steer the conversation back to the agenda and not comment on that uncomfortable situation. I would not have wanted to let her keep talking for fear it would become a big issue. I'm so glad you managed it!"

Saying yes does indeed create some risk, but it also creates resolution, as it did for the woman who needed to be heard.

Put the Critic on Hold

Imagine a critic. In my mind, I see a wizened pundit peering over his glasses with a sarcastic sneer. He knows so much more than me. I know he'll discount or even laugh at anything I say. And if he really hates an idea, he'll literally scream, "No!"

Put him on hold. Seriously. Punch the pause button on the video in your brain and stop him in his tracks. This is absolutely necessary to Yes! Space.

Putting the critic on hold addresses how Yes! Space deals with something we want to reject. Saying no is a human defense mechanism. When we are faced with an idea or situation that makes us feel surprised or uncomfortable, it is safer to say no. That way, we will not need to stretch, change, or say or do anything that feels risky or scary. We are trained to be logical, rational, linear thinkers. When I suggest that I am the queen of Sheba, you may fi rst react with logic, reason, or even sarcasm. It is a ridiculous statement and it would be far safer to simply kill the idea than to take part in it.

Putting the critic on hold is the loophole for the logical mind. It's another reflex that teaches your brain to say to itself, "That sounds utterly ridiculous and improbable. However, I am going to stop myself from using negative judgment right now. I'm going to allow my brain to agree that this idea is possible, if only for a little while."

Knowing that evaluation and critique can happen later also allows the critic to relax. The critic in your brain can say, "OK, I really want to speak up now, but I'll lie low until this idea has been fully, positively vetted. Then I'll be better able to judge its merit."

Every time you see a movie featuring aliens, space travel, fictional creatures, or anything you know is not real, your brain puts the critic on hold. For those two hours in the movie theater, we agree to believe the impossible is real. If every time a weird, creative idea arose for a novelist or scriptwriter, his or her colleagues said, "That doesn't exist. Don't do it," we would have no Star Wars, no Lord of the Rings — no SpongeBob, for that matter.

Let's think about our discerning, professional minds. At school and at work, we're evaluated on how critically we can think. We like to ask questions such as "Where are the problems? How can we anticipate all the bad stuff?"

If you are handed a document to review, the first thing you look for is typos, bad grammar, loose content, and you send it back full of red ink and comments on what was wrong. If your significant other or child comes up with a crazy idea for the weekend that doesn't immediately appeal to you, you probably try to introduce doubt. And during meetings, if someone goes off the agenda with a new idea or suggestion, we inwardly seethe. When a new employee throws out a suggestion, it is often met with any number of the following responses:

"I don't know about that."

"We tried it two years ago and it tanked."

"Good idea. But it will never work."


Excerpted from The Improvisation Edge by Karen Hough Copyright © 2011 by Karen Hough. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted March 10, 2011

    Business and Improvisation together...who knew!

    Improvisation by definition is a team sport. Team issues rank in the top three problems businesses face. Therefore it only makes sense that the two would merge in Karen Hough's book, "The Improvisation Edge-Secrets to Building trust & Radical Collaboration at Work" Karen communicates through stories, examples, quotes and suggested application exercises the four secrets of improvisation. unlike theory books that whet your appetite and then leave you hungry for more, this book offers practical applications for each of its "secrets". What do all the secrets have in common? They develop trust among the team and the organization. Why trust? Trust allows adaptation and collaboration on the highest levels. Karen teaches that low trust equals stress and stress makes us stupid-literally. Under stress our IQ declines. We can't remember as well, learn or make good decisions. If companies learn the four behavioral secrets: positivity and creativity in the workplace, taking something small and building it to the exceptional, leveraging the combined power of the team and understanding that the unexpected often yield the greatest discoveries...positive results will occur! Buy the book, read the book, apply the principles of improv into your business. Then stand back and watch the amazing results.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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