On August 10th, I delivered the keynote address welcoming the Master of Science in Accounting students at Oklahoma State University to the Fall 2021 semester. The title of my keynote was “Improv Is No Joke.” Not something you would expect to be a keynote title to a group of accounting students.
Before my keynote began, there was a video message to the students from the dean of the Spears School of Business, Dr. Ken Eastman. In his welcome to the students, he referenced the Korn Ferry five skills that need to be developed right now: Agility, Creativity, The Service Mindset, Communication, and Leadership. In other words, the improviser’s mindset.
Let’s dig deeper into the Korn Ferry blog post, ‘Five Skills That Need to be Developed Right Now’. Agility, Creativity, The Service Mindset, Communication, and Leadership.
Agility means “being able to adapt quickly to uncertainty and constant change.” That, in and of itself, is improvisation. The ability to adapt or be agile means focusing on the things that we have control over and letting go of things that we have no control over. This is accomplished through the philosophy of Yes! And. Accept the premise that is handed to you, and positively add to it.
Creativity can be as simple as staying curious and not falling into the trap of “this is how it has always been done.” It also requires two separate and distinct types of thinking, divergent and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is the process of coming up with lots of ideas without censoring yourself or others, or saying the dreaded creativity killer, “we can’t do that.” In improv we say, you can’t create and criticize in the same space. Criticism is essential in creativity only after all of the ideas have been vetted. Convergent thinking is the process of analyzing those divergent ideas to determine which ideas can solve the problem at hand.
The Service Mindset is “having the awareness to adjust the goods and services we provide to customers, in the way they need them, when they need them – this is a critical skill for talent.” To do this effectively, you need to park your ego and listen to what the customer wants, not what you think the customer needs. In improv, it is all about the team, and the customer, and less about ourselves.
Communication is essential in both “written and verbal skills and presenting well in-person and on videoconference, [these] are growing in strategic importance.” The ability to articulate your thoughts and deliver that message in a way that your audience can understand has always been important, even more so when delivering it virtually. This communication also extends to your body language, both in-person and on Zoom and other virtual platforms. Always present positive body language when speaking or attending any meeting or presentation. This means no slouched posture, no using your smartphone, and always have your camera on when in a virtual environment, just to name a few. Leadership is developing “talent with the ability to reach out and take the initiative, build relationships across the organization, and foster trust and inclusion through behavior and actions – [these are skills] in demand at every level.”
Leadership is also about being vulnerable around your team and letting them know when you are wrong. In improv, it is all about the team and less about you. Our job is to make the individuals on our team look good, support them, and treat them with the highest respect. It is not our job to disrespect them or tear them down. That is just your ego getting in the way. Let your ego sit on the bench for a while and focus on what is best for the team.
The two-hour keynote on improv contained the essence of this Korn Ferry blog, along with helping these accounting students understand that they speak a foreign language called accounting. Those in the corporate world who are not well versed in the foreign language of accounting have no idea what you are saying. The sixth critical skill that every accountant, engineer, or financial person needs to develop is a translation of technical language into plain English. When you master all six of these skills, you have become a well-versed and highly impactful leader within your organization.