Taking An Innovative Approach To Communication In The Corporate World

What makes a company or corporation great? What is it that makes them truly stand out among their competitors?

Excellent, innovative, and effective communication. This kind of communication invites Productivity, Adaptability, Stronger Relationships, Successful Negotiations, and it brings an end to tired, useless jargon that derails, distracts, and limits every situation.

What is needed is an innovative approach that creates excellent, open, and effective communication, both internally and externally, during the organization’s day-to-day inner workings.

And that innovative approach is found in the principles of Improvisation. Yes, that’s right, Improv. Improv is much, much more than comedy. It is a unique and powerful approach that promotes a simpler, more positive, and effective way to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate as a team – whether with your internal people or external constituents.

At its foundation, Improv is leadership in hyperdrive. 

IMPROV INVITES PRODUCTIVITY  

The foundation for effective leadership is active listening. When leaders listen to their employees and engage them using the skills learned from improv, growth happens.

Improvisation promotes cooperation, and with greater collaboration, productivity goes up. The principles of improv fundamentally create productive interactions because they force people to truly listen to one another. Many companies are discovering the powerful effect this has on the way teams work together. It also has a profound impact on the way clients feel. It shifts the atmosphere of the entire corporation into feeling more energized and in sync.

IMPROV INVITES ADAPTABILITY

In today’s dynamic market, companies need to be adaptable, and learning improv is great for business. The next generation wants to have fun. It has struck the right nerve amongst the younger generations who have taken improvisation classes in business schools and watched the popular show Whose Line is it Anyways. They are driving the face of corporate solutions by sparking creative thinking and ending the corporate jargon that has left innovation stale.

“Yes, and…” is the glue that holds it all together. It is the essential skill used when two people stand on stage to improvise and ADAPT. It is all about adaptability.  They are not allowed to tell each other no.

Replacing the words ‘No’ and ‘yes but” with the improv phrase “yes, and…” will invite active listening, valuable input, and teach how to adapt in the moment for the greatest results! That phrase communicates so much. It is supportive and respectful. It focuses on the conversation rather than shutting it down. It shows you are listening to the other person and trust what they have to offer. “Yes, and…” ties all the fundamental principles of effective communication and adaptation into a practical and productive two-word tool that will cause companies to stand up and standout.

IMPROV BUILDS STRONGER RELATIONSHIPS

Have you ever watched preschoolers play with blocks? They take turns stacking them on top of each other until the blocks get too high, and they topple over – or they like to watch it fall and knock it over on purpose. But the point is that both of them have an agenda. They each want to pick up a block and put it on the tower, and each one probably has an idea about what the tower will look like, but they keep building until they can’t build anymore.

A successful relationship is birthed in the same way – one block at a time – first collaborating, then sharing, and building on each new ‘block’ with a shared vision in mind. That is how you connect with other people.

We are more likely to succeed in our relationships when both parties can envision a common goal. Improvisation teaches us to set aside our agendas and ego and take whatever the other person gives you and go with it. There’s that glue again, “Yes, and…” Successful people all intuitively do this in building strong relationships – they don’t realize they are doing it and using improvisation to make it happen.

IMPROV CREATES SUCCESSFUL NEGOTIATIONS

To succeed in negotiations, we need to drop our agendas long enough to listen—and with respect for all involved truly. It is valid for formal negotiations around a conference table and is the way to success in the daily negotiations of life and career —during a chat with the boss or with one’s spouse, or with a child. This is the kind of straight talk we can cultivate that truly will make the most significant difference.

Six Principles of Improvisation

These six skills will ensure every negotiation has the potential to end with a positive solution: 

1. Take your ego off the table.
2. Respect the other party.
3. Be in the moment (focus).
4. Listen to the other party’s needs and wants. 

5. Adapt to the situation.

6. Yes, and… 

These steps genuinely help in removing emotions from the table. Anthony K. Tjan wrote in a Harvard Business Review blog, “Time and emotion — these are the two things most often wasted during a negotiation. ”And he is very right.”  

We tend to react emotionally and negatively to any points of negotiation that oppose our agenda. And that wastes time. When our negotiation goals are so firmly anchored that we cannot budge, it becomes hard to see any common goal as a solution. Instead, emotions kick in, and egos inflate—and we cease to listen. All we hear is our voice in our head, trying to find a way back to what we want.

  • Tom Yorton was once in the corporate ranks before becoming CEO of Second City Communications, the business solutions division of the world-renowned improv comedy company, The Second City. He had this to say in a recent Business Innovation Factory article, “But my experience – and in fact, my scars – are from bumping up against the same organizational hurdles that improv is so effective at helping companies get over – challenges that include connecting with customers, engaging employees around change, moving into new markets, innovating new products and services, working without a script.”

It is something brought to the table that was unexpected. It halts forward momentum. It is something that doesn’t neatly fit inside the box of your agenda.

  • Daena Giardella teaches an improvisational leadership class at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. She spends an entire lesson on teaching how to avoid using the most common block, the “yes, but.” In an NPR article, she points out, “Even though you say, ‘Yes,’ the but says, Yeah, but that’s not valid because here is the better point.”

Negotiations can quickly come to a grinding halt when “yes, but” comes to the table. It is when emotions get heated and time gets wasted. 

Time to remember the 6 principles of improvisation! 

END USELESS JARGON 

We all have some of our favorite “buzz words” we like to use, and some we can’t stand. They are great at creating imagery, but is it the kind of imagery that allows everyone to be on the same page? Think about a few of these common corporate buzz words used in many meetings and emails during the day-to-day. Do they create a clear path, or is there just a buzz in the room? Here are some common buzzwords and what I think of when I hear them:

  • Benchmarking: my photo on a bus stop bench
    Back of the Envelope: we need more legal pads 
  • Go the Extra Mile: a sweaty dude 
  • Best Practices: a Hallmark card 

None of these buzz words mean anything anymore. Too many of them in the conversation, and the listeners, if they are even that anymore, tune out. They are empty words and provide very little clear direction and no focus that employees can rally behind. With no clear path, stress increases, and productivity goes down. It becomes everyone doing what they think ‘best practices’ means.

What if we replaced the jargon with more direct and more precise speech? A company that states the customer service policy as “we strive to provide top-notch service to all of our customers” can be replaced with “we listen to the customers and meet their expectations.”

“Yes, and… let’s hold a quarterly brainstorming session with all the employees to think of ways we can show the customers we are listening.”

IMPROV IS LEADERSHIP IN HYPERDRIVE

Improvisation promotes innovative thinking by taking the conversation and pushing it forward into the future. That is what a good leader does. Ed Herbstman, a co-founder of the Magnet Theater, a New York-based theater conducting corporate training, has even helped teach courses for companies like Google. He said, “When you’re the person saying yes to other people, they start to bring you their best ideas. When you’re meeting things habitually with ‘yes, and,’ with an energy of agreement, you transform the way people perceive you.”

When more people are willing to speak up with their ideas because they know they will be heard, employees take a more vested role in the job they have. Their performance goes up. People get excited about seeing their vision, no longer just the “head honcho’s” vision, begin to take shape. It sets companies up on the stage while others are left looking for a chair in the audience.

Excellent, innovative, and effective communication that makes a company great and genuinely stands out among its competitors requires excellent, creative, and effective communication.  

It invites Productivity, Adaptability, Stronger Relationships, Successful Negotiations, and it brings an end to tired, useless jargon that derails, distracts, and limits every situation.

And can all be found in the innovative approach of Improvisation.

If you would like to discuss having me facilitate an Improv is Leadership in Hyperdrive workshop to your organization, contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com and in the subject line put “Improv is Leadership in Hyperdrive.”

All Ideas Are Important Ideas

Are you looking for a new way to generate ideas to solve your problems? Do you have a culture in place that accepts that all ideas are important ideas? Do you think of yourself as a creative person? What about your team?

David Kelley, CEO of legendary design firm IDEO, spoke about the importance of building creative confidence. He relayed a classmate’s experience early on in elementary school, being ridiculed by a peer about the project he was trying to create. As a result, his classmate immediately shut down and quit the project, feeling discouraged about his peer’s opinion. Kelley went on to talk about how we can often “opt-out” of being creative due to this kind of experience – we tell ourselves that we’re not creative, so, therefore, it’s somehow true. He stressed how wrong this is and how important it is for us to understand and realize that we are all naturally creative – we’re not divided into “creatives” and “non-creatives.”

In creative workshops with accounting professionals, I always stress the need to think about more than just facts. Accountants are very facts-oriented people. The challenge is to get them to see more to their profession than just the facts and figures. Many of them feel just as Kelley described, that they somehow aren’t cut out to be creative or that they aren’t capable.

However, the important thing for all of us in technical professions and a few other professions that are generally considered “not creative” is to realize that – indeed, we are creative! Creativity is, simply put, your ability to generate ideas.  And we all certainly do that, and the more, the better!  So, remember, your involvement in the creative process is just as real and just as important as anyone else’s.

IMPROV BEYOND THE STAGE

Business schools across America have taken note of the importance of idea generation and creative thinking in the business world. For the past several years, programs have started offering courses that help students not only learn ways to promote freer thinking and brainstorming, but to adopt principles of improvisation in order to facilitate this creativity. One of the most powerful principles of improv is found in the practice of the “yes, and…” approach.

Bob Kulhan, an influential promoter of getting improvisation into business schools across America, summed up the idea of “yes, and…” in a Slate article, “When they’re collaborating onstage, improv performers never reject one another’s ideas—they say “yes, and” to accept and build upon each new contribution.” “It’s a total philosophy of creativity,” says Holly Mandel, founder of the performance school Improvolution and its corporate-targeted offshoot Imergence. “Yes, and” creates; while ‘no’ stops the flow.

It’s this “yes, and…” principle of improv that gets ideas churning up and out of people’s heads. This is not only applicable for others, but for ourselves as well. We are often our own harshest critic – a critic that is quick to dismiss our ideas as ‘stupid’.  We need to silence that critic in order for creativity to surface! In reality, there are no stupid ideas – every one of them leads somewhere, and it’s especially important in brainstorming to let all ideas rise. In creativity workshops, I stress the importance that no idea is a bad idea.  All ideas lead to a better idea. Therefore, ALL ideas are important. So, whatever is in your head, let it out!  Even if the inner critic is shouting at you – shout it down and let the idea out! Ideas (good or bad) lead to better ideas. No ideas lead to nothing.

GETTING THOSE IDEAS OUT

Remember, when we are brainstorming ideas, we are looking for quantity not quality. You can’t create and criticize in the same space.  Successful ideation requires divergent thinking, which is a process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. Once we have completed the generation of ideas, we then change to convergent thinking. Convergent thinking is where we take those ideas and organize them and take steps to see if we can arrive at the correct solution. In other words, you can now become the critic! 

There are many exercises that you can employ in your brainstorming process. One of my favorites is outrageous opposites.  If you have a problem to solve, step one is to brainstorm traditional approaches in solving the problem.  Step 2 is to brainstorm outrageous ideas in solving the problem.  When you are finished, look at the outrageous ideas and see if there is anything you can expand on.  For example:

Number of participants: 1 – 20

Problem: Recruiting seasoned staff for our company

Traditional approaches: Monster.com adds, Indeed.com ads, hire a headhunter, offer a referral bonus to current staff, etc…

Outrageous approaches: hire a blimp to fly over sporting event, place ads in restrooms, have an open house, create a fun YouTube video about your company, etc…

Review your outrageous approaches and see which ones might actually work for your organization.  There is a regional accounting firm, Withum Smith + Brown, that did fun YouTube videos to help increase the moral in the company.  These were actually so good that seasoned staffed from other accounting firms applied for positions with their firm.  Here is a link to one of those videos https://youtu.be/ZCs7O6cJgiQ.

Another favorite brainstorming exercise is called “Kill the business.” Instead of thinking of ways to grow your business, this is an exercise that focuses on ways to put your company out of business.  Your team is looking at the company’s weaknesses and listing them as a small, medium, or large threat.  Once these weaknesses have been identified and categorized, then answer a couple of questions: 

What did we not think about before that we can see now? 

What could attack us now and how can we quickly eliminate the threat?

Which one is the most important weaknesses that we must fix? 

This is an eye-opening exercise that will uncover opportunities that you may not have discovered using conventional thinking.  

There are a number of resources where you can find brainstorming exercises.  Here are a couple:

  • SmartStorming: The Game-Changing Process for Generating Bigger, Better Ideas. By Keith Harmeyer and Mitchell Rigie. 
  • Improvisation for the Theater, Third Edition, Viola Spolin (these exercises can be debriefed from a business perspective).

IMPLEMENTING A CREATIVE WORKPLACE

In the end, the workplace needs leaders that inspire and encourage the expression of creativity. John Dragoon, CMO of Novell was quoted in Forbes saying, “Truly creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are openminded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.”

This doesn’t happen overnight, but if the leadership encourages the generation of ideas, some of them are bound to produce impressive results. Not all the ideas are going to work, no matter how much product testing and field work a company conducts. Some ideas will go nowhere, but if you have no ideas, you certainly will go nowhere.

When it comes to creativity and generating ideas, all are needed, and all are wanted. While what comes out might be a bit rough, with a little polishing and fine tuning, the result can be quite extraordinary.

If you would like to discuss having me facilitate a brainstorming session for your organization, contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com and in the subject line put “ALL IDEAS ARE IMPORTANT IDEAS.”

Awakened to Change! An Improvisor’s Journey

In a recent conversation with a colleague about social justice reform and eliminating racism, I made the comment that racism is something you learn over time through your family, culture, and your environment.  Growing up in Lexington, KY in the 1960s through the early ’80s, I witnessed racism in a variety of ways. However, I never thought of those actions as racist because they were commonplace and part of the family, culture, and environment. The reality, however, and I am sad to say it – is that at one point in my life, I was a racist. 

It was in early 1984 when I recognized that my thoughts and attitudes had begun to change.  I was the new general manager of Ken’s Pizza in Griffin, GA.  When I asked people if they knew where Griffin, GA is located, most did not, so I would respond, “somewhere between Atlanta and the Civil War”. The reason for that reference came from an encounter I had with two customers on my first day as a general manager.  It went like this:  after our lunch rush, two little mature ladies called me over to their booth.  I walked over and introduced myself and asked if they like their pizza.  They both said that they enjoyed the pizza. Then one of the ladies looked me in the eye and said, “It is nice to have a white general manager for a change.” I was stunned and said, “excuse me I need to get back to work.” 

It was 1997 when I realized that my opinions, attitude, and mindset had totally changed.  The realization came to me during a conversation with my father about the potential hiring of Tubby Smith, African American, to be the new basketball head coach at the University of Kentucky.  My father swore that there would never be a black Head Coach at UK. When I pointed out that Tubby was an assistant coach at UK from 1989 – 1991 he said that being an assistant was okay.  Turns out my dad was wrong. Tubby Smith was hired as the Head Coach at UK in March 1997.  It is a little ironic that my father said that because he told me a story about his Greek stepfather trying to open a second business in Harlan, KY in the ’50s, only for it to be burned to the ground by the KKK because a Greek could only have one business. A perfect example of some self-appointed superior group telling someone else, they are not allowed to do something. 

That was also the year I was introduced to improv comedy.  As I began to recognize that improv was more than just being funny – that it is really a leadership philosophy and way of life – my awareness, attitudes and beliefs began to change dramatically. The Improv concept of Yes! And teaches us to suspend our judgment, park our ego, listen to understand, and to be empathetic.  

Yes! And, and Improv isn’t about pushing a tired old belief forward just because this is the way it always has been. It isn’t about looking at others as second- or third-class citizens and making decisions based upon stereotypes. It is not about listening and only responding to push your tired and outdated agenda. 

Yes! And is just the opposite – with a lot of empathy. Empathy is not putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Empathy is trying to understand how that person feels in their shoes.   

Yes! And, and Improv is about humanity. No matter someone’s race, everyone is a human being, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds & cultures. These people are sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, oxygen breathing, emotional humans. It is about acceptance and moving forward.  It is about trying to understand how the other person feels in their shoes.  When was the last time you tried doing that by suspending your judgment, parking your ego, and truly listening to understand rather than just responding? 

Last year, an African American friend of mine and I were talking just before my family’s annual vacation to Sanibel Island, FL in August. Just before we hung up, he said, “Be careful that you don’t get too dark, the police might pull you over.” I can’t imagine getting pulled over just because of the color of my skin, but we see and hear about it all the time. What would I feel like if a police officer pulled me over just because of the color of my skin or that he/she simply could?  Especially when I knew that I had done nothing wrong. 

My favorite conference to speak at was the National Association of Black Accountants, and I spoke there for 5 years in a row.  I remember the first time I was there; I was walking the halls with an African American woman who asked me, “Don’t you feel nervous?” I replied, “By what?” She said, “You know, you kind of stand out from almost everyone attending.” I replied, “When I see someone who is a different color than me, I try to see them as who they are – father, husband, wife, mother, son, daughter, who is trying to make the best life for them and their families, just like I am trying to do. 

A female colleague shared a story with me about traveling the east coast on business, missing her Amtrak train, and having to walk into a small town in Connecticut in a notably ‘bad’ area.  As she was leaving the train platform, she saw a group of young black men heading toward the platform – and her – through an empty parking lot. She admittedly had a moment. A moment of fear based on familial and cultural conditioning.  And then she stopped.  Changed her thought – that moment – to one of gratitude, and instead of being afraid, she walked up to the young men, dropped her bags and thanked them for coming to her rescue.  They gathered round her and helped her find a place to stay for the night – exactly what they had intended when they first saw her. 

Being silent and not enacting positive change is not the way to create change, especially in difficult times like these. There are too many leaders who think they are leaders when they are not.  As I heard Simon Sinek say during an interview, “Leadership has nothing to do with your title. Leadership is the positive effect you have on another person.”  

To enact positive change in the elimination of social injustice and racism, white people need to quit talking and start listening. We need to hear the conversation for what it is, not what we want it to be. We need to take an improvisor’s mindset to search for a solution versus creating a bigger divide for our own self interests. I have heard many of an improvisor say, “if everyone would just take one improv course, this world would be a better place.”

This is an example of Leadership in Hyperdrive: Powered by Improv™. If you would like to learn more about how improv is a powerful leadership philosophy, please contact me at peter@petermargaritis.com

THANK YOU to all the heroes!

The coronavirus will be part of our lives until a vaccine is developed and administered. As of May 14, 2020, there are 4,387,438 confirmed cases with 298,392 (7%) deaths, globally. In the U.S., there are 1,395,265 confirmed cases with 84,313 (6%) deaths. These facts are from the COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

When you take a step back from these numbers, they are entirely staggering since the first known case was discovered on November 17, 2019, according to the South Morning China Post. The virus came ashore in the U.S. in February 2020, just three months ago. 

There are hundreds, if not thousands of heroes in this battle, and we owe each and every one of them a big THANK YOU for putting their lives on the front lines to protect every one of us. Here’s to the doctors, nurses, healthcare professionals and scientists working on the vaccine and therapy’s; truck drivers, grocery store personnel, those who work in distribution centers, those who are making masks and giving them away, food delivery people, funeral directors, police, firefighters, governors, state officials, directors of state health departments; those essential profit and non-profit businesses; those who have recovered from the virus and have donated their plasma;  all of these are just some off the top of my head who deserve our gratitude.  And there are many, many more. 

The coronavirus has touched us all in some manner. You may know someone who had the virus and recovered, or you may know someone who has died from the virus, or you know one of the heroes of the virus. I know:

  • A personal friend contracted the virus early in March when the key questions were – have you traveled to China or one of the other infected countries? OR, have you come in contact with anyone who has tested positive? He was not tested, but his doctor told him to self-quarantine. It took three long weeks to recover and has no idea how or where he contacted the virus. During the three weeks of his battle, I would text him about every other day to see how he was feeling and check on his progress. Now that he has recovered, he is going to donate his plasma to help others.  
  • I have a friend who is a nurse in Lexington, KY, and she volunteered to go to New York City during the peak of the outbreak and help out in any way possible. I sent my friend a thank you note for her service.
  • I have a friend and his fiancée who are doctors and are working in the COVID-19 wings within their hospitals in Boston. We have sent them thank you cards for their service and will send them Cheryl Cookies once Cheryl’s and begin delivery.  
  • When I visit a grocery store, I try to thank all of those people who working to keep the shelves stocked and the store sanitized for the betterment of their customers.  

Take a moment and think of those heroes that you know.  Have you thanked them for their courage and service during this crisis? If not, then take a moment and thank them. I am sure they will be very appreciative. Stay healthy, be safe, and practice social distancing.

Step Away from the Script

The unlikely blending of Accounting and Improvisation is something I have in common with my two guests, Kristen Rampe and Jason Lieu, from Slide Deck Improv. Both Kristen and Jason started their careers in the Accounting field but later discovered Improv as a creative outlet. This prompted Kristen to create Slide Deck Improv, which features improv-based workshops as a way to put the fun back into the way professionals communicate in their workplace.  

Slide Deck Improv marries both worlds by working on presentation and communication skills with an improv angle. Besides being in a classroom learning environment, the audience also plays improv games, which is a great way to teach people to think on their feet. The experience not only taps into the creative process, but it also gives you more faith in your abilities and boosts confidence. Participants learn to enhance their speaking and storytelling skills so that they can connect with others in more impactful ways. It teaches people how to observe and try new skills while having much fun in the process. 

Kristen designed the program, so there is “a little bit of learning, a little bit of practice, and just a whole lot of fun.” Also, the course helps participants build confidence by assisting them to get “comfortable in the uncomfortable.”  

Professional development workshops are notoriously dull, but this one is not. According to Slide Deck Improv, they offer “a fresh and fun classroom experience to help professionals tap into their creativity and gain confidence presenting to groups.”  

Besides teaching improv skills, volunteers in the workshop present before the group. They present five slides (one picture per slide) that they have never seen before and a topic that will be selected by the audience. Just imagine a seasoned tax professional speaking on the subject of Botany. At the same time, a picture of cows pops up on the screen. While laughter ripples through the room, the group learns how to make public speaking a little less scary.  

All professional groups from sales to engineers will benefit from learning how to engage people with the newfound confidence that Slide Deck Improv provides. Whether it is interacting with your sales team, customers, or management, these skills can be utilized in your profession, but also transfer over into your daily life.  

Many professionals are highly analytical and spend a lot of time in their heads. Jason described his experience with Improv as, “In any given moment, I’m in my head trying to digest information. And I like to go back and analyze everything before I come up with an answer. Improv gave me this tool that allowed me to live in the moment, listen to people, and to engage in real-time, and I love the feeling and energy of it.”  

Jason expands on the benefits of the program. “I love Improv because it’s such a general skill. It’s not just a business communication skill. It’s a life skill. You can bring this into all your facets of everyday life. And it’s all about connecting with your audience no matter who the audience is. It could be your customers, clients, sales team, internal, external, whatever. It comes down to people talking to people. And if you can connect and engage people, you’re going to have this newfound confidence in your work.”

Everyone can benefit from this kind of workshop, whether you are a CEO or a young professional. Improving your communication skills while in a less traditional forum sparks more productive business relationships. 

You can join in on the fun, while Kristen and Jason show off their improv skills during season 2, episode 13 of Change Your Mindset podcast by clicking here. You’ll get a taste of how the programs work while gaining valuable insight into the process. Thank you, Kristen and Jason, for taking the time to share your innovative program.

Visit SlideDeckImprov.com to find out more about how you can ‘Step Away from the Script.’