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WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW: GETTING UP TO SPEED WITH APPLIED IMPROVISATION

  
Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP
Make your partner look good," a guiding principle of improvisation, was abundantly on display the night I attended a meeting of the  New York Rgional Applied Improvisation Network co-facilitated by Zohar Adner and Caitlin McClure, both professional trainers in corporate settings whose game plan for the evening transformed 25 strangers into a working group. Within the first 20 minutes, a positive, dynamic energy connected us, making the event a real-time expression of the philosophy and skill set that both trainers believe and practice in their personal and working lives, e.g., "work at the top of your intelligence; we are all supporting players; avoid judging what occurs, focus on what you can contribute," to quote the Patron Saint of Improv, Del Close.
     "This is a foundational mindset and way of looking at the world that opens up possibilities and collaboration - two things the world really needs now," Zohar states. "Every cause gets stronger when people accept that the world has more options than they can come up with on their own." Caitlin emphasizes that "this way of thinking and being in the world is a discipline, and as such, must be practiced."
     These methods can revolutionize learning in a therapy group or classroom. They bring information to life and immediately connect it to experience. And experience makes learning stick. Scientific American estimates that technology is evolving at something like 10 million times the natural speed of change. As this accelerated pace continues to reshape organizations, methods that promote rapid integration of knowledge and the facility to apply it are gaining value.
     "In today's economic environment, companies and organizations need to bolster productivity, increase creativity, and deliver results," Zohar explains. "Those who embrace quality, service, teamwork, and trust throughout their workforce will thrive in such an environment. Fortunately the application of improv (and its tenets) in the workplace can garner those very traits." Daniel Goleman, author of Working With Emotional Intelligence writes "As business changes, so do the traits needed to survive, let alone excel" - traits that include self-awareness, empathy, embrace of diversity, and social awareness[iii]. "The ratcheting upward of competitive pressures puts a new value on people who are self-motivated, show initiative, have the inner drive for outdoing themselves, and are optimistic enough to take reversals and setbacks in stride."[ii]
     Improvisation is getting some serious traction in the business community as research findings support its effectiveness. A graduate of Columbia University, Caitlin wrote her master’s thesis on Emotional Intelligence after she observed its correlation to work she was already doing with Applied Improv. She wondered “could an AI curriculum be mapped on to and develop Daniel Goleman’s framework of 20 EI competencies? My initial pilot workshops have been successful. I am currently running more workshops to collect more data.”
   Professor Mary Crossan of the Ivey School of Business views improvisation as “a key business imperative” in the networked world. “Even if managers recognize the inherent unpredictability of their environment,” she states in the journal Organizational Dynamics, “Lessons can be learned from improvisation, both in theater and music, for application to business. In addition, training exercises from the performing arts can be used to convey the principles of improvisation in corporate settings.”[iv] “The verb we use in improv is “To Play,” says Caitlin. “Getting a group to play together is a great way to get them to start to trust each other.”
     Both Zohar and Caitlin will present at the annual conference of the Applied Improvisation Network which will take place in Amsterdam Sept. 23-26, 2010. The conference program wil feature three tracks: Business, which will focus on innovation, organizational change, building & branding a business; The Social World, exploring applications of improv to social change; The Personal World, focusing on personal development and applications of improv to creating a better, more satisfying life.
     “I’m presenting about the importance of the debriefing process,” Caitlin explains, “where clients consciously make connections between their AI experiences and their work/lives. For experiential learning to stick, meaning from the experience must be made conscious.”
     Zohar’s presentation will expand on concepts in his book - a revolutionary, step-by-step strategy for using what we perceive as stress to actualize important change. In his book, the exercises on his website, and his group he encourages a creative, open-ended questioning consistent with the model and the method of applied improvisation e.g. “Given the fact that these stressful things happening, how can I use this situation to my benefit or to create a better world?”


Zohar and Caitlin have scheduled the next meeting of the New York Applied Improvisation community for Friday October 15, 2010. Click here for more information

Zohar Adner author of The Gift of Stress, and creator of the Seven R's of Stress Release®—a process to release ANY stress quickly, easily, and effectively, ha appeared on Late Show with David Letterman to coach one of their staff, and has been interviewed for articles in Women's Health, Men's Health, Woman’s World, Weight Watchers, Career Builder, USA Today, and NY Post. His humorous and engaging presentations illustrate how to capitalize on the stress’s urgent message, regain control over it, and release it. Visit his website http://www.stopstressingout.com/



Caitlin McClure designs and facilitates professional development programs that draw heavily on the principles and techniques of Applied Improv. She started improvising in 1995 and since then has been busily teaching, coaching and facilitating both on her own and with different consulting firms. Her passion is bringing the communication principles of improv to non-improvisers, helping them creatively solve problems and perform more effectively. Last year she got her M.A. in Adult Learning and Leadership from Columbia University allowing her to offer a wide array of services that leverage the tools and principles of adult learning theory. Clients include The US Olympic Committee, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Citibank, Lehman Brothers, American Express, PNC Bank, The Girl Scouts of America, Columbia University, and the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. Visit her website at http://caitlinmcclure.wordpress.com./




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