Rolling With The Punches

Humans have a real knack for figuring things out on the fly, or improvising; however, improvisation has been underutilized in the world of business. We spoke with an improv expert and all-around great dude, Bob Kulhan to explore the importance of honing in on these improvisational skills. Read on to learn how you can IMPROV your business (and no, that’s not a typo!).

Q1: At its core, what is improv all about?

A: If you asked 100 improvisers, you might get 100 different answers. For me, it’s about seizing the moment, recognizing what’s happening in real time, and capitalizing on the situational comedy inherent to that moment. It’s organic, and it’s very much based in discovery. It’s also collaborative – improvisational humor by yourself is like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it.

Q2: Why is improve valuable to businesspeople?

A: Let’s start with brain chemistry. Just laughing reduces stress hormones and releases the happy ones. It’s a nice cocktail in our brains. That helps us do just about everything better – communication, collaboration, you name it. Next, improv is about creativity, innovation, change management, dealing with the unknown – these are all things we do on a regular basis.

Q3: What advice would you give to somebody who says they’d never do improv?

A: My dad always says, “never say never” and “always avoid always.” It’s an art form and a skill that everybody can learn. In Business Improv, those skills are in three key areas: reacting, adapting, and communicating. Those apply to a lit of things. Everybody has to improvise. If you don’t EVER need to react, communicate, or collaborate, then sure, you’re right; you don’t need to do this.

Q4: What are the biggest misconceptions you’ve encountered about improv when teaching it to businesspeople?

A: First, that improv is all about comedy. Improv is everywhere. Improvisation can be critical in any context, not just funny ones. Two, people think it’s only what happens when the sheet hits the fan. It’s not just about the scramble to figure things out, it’s about honing the skills to do it well.

Q5: How can someone begin training to form a better improv mindset?

A: Call me up! You could always come learn online with me. Ultimately, though, it’s baby steps. Start with “yes, and.” Say “yes” to say I hear you, and then build on it with “and.” It’s an act of thoughtfulness, and a bridge to others. If you say yes to any scenario, you’ll be challenged to break it apart and figure it out.

Q6: If you started a band related to the paper business -what would the name be?

A: The Sheetless, Page Against the Machine, Sheetwood Mac. . . or maybe the Red Hot Chili Papers?

Q7: Any Final Thoughts?

A: Improv brings people together. It builds important skills. Just try stuff. Find somebody you gel with, work on it in your own time, and remember: baby steps. I love this beautiful artform, and can hopefully get some people curious about it.

About Bob:

Bob Kulhan is an elite improv comedian. Bob is also an Adjunct Professor at both Columbia Business School and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business as well as the Founder & CEO of Business Improv-a 22-year-old consultancy that uses behavioral science and improv to help businesses thrive. For 27 years, Bob has performed improv across the globe from Chicago’s famed The Second City (mainstage, understudy) to Koc University in Istanbul. Bob also published Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv, which you can purchase here on Amazon!

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