Script or no script: Can we learn from improv?

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Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0.
An improvisational comedy troupe in Austin, Texas, United States doing a shortform improv game. (Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0.)

I enjoyed this posting from 2011 on daily5remodel.com:

Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0.
An improvisational comedy troupe in Austin, Texas, United States doing a shortform improv game. (Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0.)

To script or not to script? When it comes to sales, there are those who hew to a specific written system and set of procedures, those who loosely follow general guidelines and those who, though not necessarily winging it, just do what they do.  Sandler Sales trainer Chip Doyle selected the best response, which opened my eyes to a sales training possibility I had never considered before (and it isn’t Sandler’s system.)

My friend Doug Hoselton taught me about improv and how closely it mirrored successful selling. I was shocked when Doug explained that performers on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” were following defined structures and rules. Rules like: Focus on listening, not what to say. Avoid judgment. Never enter unless you’re needed. Never deny or block another actor’s conversation. Always say yes.

The similarities to sales are significant. Each one of these Improv rules above can be applied to sales. “Planned not canned” is a great way to describe this approach. And of course, I also advocate learning from each sales call. You only improv_ by making mistakes! Jason Parsons’ answer did best to describe these concepts. (and additionally, he’s from New Jersey!) Acting and selling have many similarities.

So, sure, you could sign up for a sales training progam, but maybe you’d do better by checking out your local comedy theatre group and learning how to improv.

I Googled the topic and discovered this further posting from cnn.com., quoting Robert Kulhan, an adjunct assistant professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in North Carolina and CEO of Business Improvisations and Lakshmi Balachandr, who teaches Improvisational Leadership at MIT Sloan School of Management and is a guest lecturer for advanced negotiation students at Harvard Business School.

Kulhan and Balachandra both said that the key to improvisation is the “Yes, and” principle, and it’s an idea they believe is particularly relevant to business.

In performance improvisation it means listening to what someone else says, accepting what they say, and then building on that. In business terms it means accepting any idea that’s brought to the table and then taking that idea further.

Kulhan said this kind of “suspension of judgment” is essential for brainstorming and creative thinking, but unconditional acceptance doesn’t always come easily to high-flying execs. He said it’s not that critical thinking isn’t important — just that it can sometimes get in the way.

“There’s a misconception in business that you have to be 100 percent correct 100 percent of the time, whereas the truth is you have to be 100 percent correct about 10 percent of the time — the rest of the time you have to just make decisions,” said Kulhan.

“We get bogged down in analysis paralysis, or just the pressure of being right, and we feel like we have to be correct all the time. But if you just make a decision you’ll have room to adapt and react and get it to work within the parameters you need.”

I don’t think anyone wants to do business with someone who thinks and behaves like a canned clone. Equally, however, “winging it” is both lazy and less-than-effective. Maybe we can learn from Improv.  “Yes, and . . .”

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