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How Improv Can Help Businesses Succeed Despite Uncertainty

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2020 has been a year full of uncertainty. No one, from the most adept researchers to serious fortune tellers, was able to predict how much the world will change. Carefully constructed plans were either thrown to the trash or adjusted drastically. Trends like e-commerce and e-learning can no longer be ignored by people who were hesitant in changing the status quo. Everyone had to accept the truth that the new normal is here to stay even if the extent of the pandemic’s effects die down.

Chaos and ambiguity, though, aren’t feared by people who are trained in improv or improvisational theater. The lack of a script is what makes this art form exciting and enjoyable. Scenes and stories are made up on the spot, with only suggestions from the audience serving as the initial prompt. Anything can happen on the stage. The scene can quickly shift from a cute love story between childhood friends to a thriller where everyone is a murder suspect. Performers are on their toes as they try to navigate through murky waters without a lifeline.

The improv mindset is what businesses, whether they’re commercial law firms or product start-ups, need to succeed in these changing times. Improv’s core principles serve as a guidepost on how to thrive in uncertainty and even use them to their advantage. Here are some key concepts businesses should take to heart:

Being in the present and listening to others

In improv, there’s no time to agonize over the past or the future. The present calls for an action or a response. Performers must decide based on the current environment and trust that they are making the right call based on the given information as well as rely on their partners having their back. Businesses should adopt the same attitude during the pandemic because inaction can be as deadly than taking a step forward. Like onstage, active listening and positive collaboration are also crucial when chaos reigns supreme because they encourage community and empathy. These are vital skills effective leaders have that result in happy customers and engaged employees.

business employees

Making partners look good

The success of improv shows lies in everyone working together — capitalizing on each other’s strengths and covering the weaknesses. Growing a business takes this same level of collaboration as success is not a one-man show. Teams flourish and reach their potential if there is an environment where support and trust are felt and valued. They are more likely to innovate and bring creative ideas to the table if they know they will not be punished when they fail. Successful corporations like Netflix and Apply have this kind of company culture.

Failure is but the next great adventure

Failure is inevitable in both the business and the improv stage. What matters is not that you fell but that you climbed back up and try again. Performers and business owners who are not afraid of failure are the ones who break through the status quo and reach greater heights. They are always learning something new and going out of their comfort zone to test their knowledge and skills. Just look at the journey of Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma. If he stopped after his first two business ventures failed, then he wouldn’t have topped Fortune China’s list of most influential business leaders every year.

As the world constantly changes, living in uncertainty is the status quo. Businesses can better manage the chaos if they apply the three principles of improv: be present, make your partner look good, and embrace failure.

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