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Monday, June 8, 2015

Want to Get Ahead? Work on Your Improv Skills 06-08

Want to Get Ahead? Work on Your Improv Skills

MIC LISTEN TO THE PODCAST:

Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton of The Second City talk about their new book.
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Authors@Wharton series.Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton of The Second City comedy theater argue that improvisational comedy and business have more in common than one might first think. In their new book, Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses ‘No, But’ Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration, they share their insights on innovation and team-building.



Laura Huang: This book had me laughing, cringing and taking notes — all at the same time. There are so many useful tidbits in here and also some really humorous anecdotes. Can you tell us about your motivations for writing Yes, And?

Kelly Leonard: Fifteen years ago, if you had said Second City was going to put its name on a business book, we would have been like, “You’re insane.” But when Tom started with the company, which was about 16 years ago, he brought with him a fresh light to the way Second City was working with clients, and he really expanded upon the business. The collaboration here was interesting because I’ve been at Second City for 26 years. It’s really stage-meets-business because Tom has a business career and I’m a theater guy. Second City is a 56-year-old theater. But what we really are is an innovation laboratory. Over about 56 years, we have had groups of people working together to create something out of nothing. We are a content creator, and we never stop. They keep doing it in these groups, and we’re very, very successful at it.




At a certain point, you go, “That’s got to be translatable.” Look at all the famous people who have leapt from the stages to the screen. I’d like to think it’s my great eye for talent. But it’s not. Because I wasn’t there when Alan Arkin started. I was there when Tina Fey started. But there’s this long tradition of building talent out of these groups to have success. When we started taking it into businesses, and having more and more success, we turned to each other — this was two, three years ago — and said, “God, we’re idiots if we don’t write this book.”

Tom Yorton: Absolutely. For me, business is an act of improvisation.  Twitter For all the planning, all the controls, all the governance, and all the things we try to do to keep the variables down, business doesn’t cooperate. The world is a gray place. This improv toolkit that we talk about is really important. It has never been more important than it is now. That was all part of the motivation for writing the book.

Huang: What I was really struck by was the way you were able to put this framework around teaching soft skills. Can you talk a little bit about these soft skills?

Yorton: I don’t think, in any part of my education, anyone ever taught me to listen. Listening is kind of important, it turns out. In fact, it’s vital…. When you improvise, you do practice it. You have to. So, there are specific listening exercises we offer in the book that people can take home with them. But you’ve got to put it into practice. Everyone understands the need to go to a gym to work out your muscles. But where do you go to work out your social skills? Improvisation is yoga for your social skills. It puts you in a mindful, present place, where you’re concentrating with eye contact with the person in front of you. You’re not thinking about before, or about after. When you’re operating “Yes, And,” which is the title of our book, you’re not saying no. You are in agreement and affirming, and you’re building something with someone else. The way you feel after you do that, especially after a three-hour improv class, is the best. If we can bring that best self into our workplace, everything gets better.

Leonard: We talk about the soft skills that separate the stars from the also-ran in business. It’s how to listen, how to read a room, how to work collaboratively on teams, how to respond to failure and how to be nimble and agile and adaptive when the unexpected happens. Those are really foreign skills to many people. You could have all the quantitative skills, and you could have all the strategy skills, and all that other stuff. They are important skills to have — make no mistake –but unless you can work well with an ensemble, create something out of nothing, and respond to the unexpected, you’re only gonna go so far in business.