Almost two years ago, Celanese was embracing its transition into a company focused on innovation, collaboration and customer-orientated opportunities; and I was enjoying my own transition into a new role to support that innovation built on strategy, marketing, and – a personal passion – improvisation.
How can I suggest that good business can come from improvisational acting? Easily. When we discuss unmet needs of the marketplace and debate possible solutions, we are embracing an unscripted environment where the solution doesn’t exist –quite frankly, we’re making it up as we go.
Strategic thinking, a “Market-Back” perspective, and “Stage Gates” improve the success of innovation development; similarly, there are core elements that make improvisation more successful. As I outline below, there are three improvisation skills which can partner with our innovation skills allowing for a perfect intersection of passions – leading us to greater creativity and overall success.
(1) Yes, and… – The core of an improvised scene is the acceptance of the initial “gift” received. When two actors begin an unscripted dialogue, they are building a scene layer-by-layer. Each line builds on the previous; each line embraces the situation given and extends the scene further and longer – any rejection will “kill” the scene.
The same is true as we contemplate the value we bring to customers. An initial idea is only the starting place – from there we continue to build, to embrace the opportunity, and to develop a new solution that exceeds the starting idea with something more valuable and sustainable over the longer-term.
(2) Spatial Awareness… – A great improvised scene takes place somewhere – anywhere – and the improvisation extends beyond the dialogue into the environment. An actor doesn’t need to bring a kite on stage to show they are enjoying an afternoon in the park, but an actor needs the audience and others to “see” from their actions that they are flying a kite and experiencing the park in order to “sell” the scene.
Similarly, when we innovate, we cannot develop solutions without an environment. We must define the context where our solutions provide value and we must demonstrate that value by showing it to our leaders and our customers. If we don’t take the time to show our value in its environment, we miss our opportunity “on stage” in our commercial discussions.
(3) Group Mind… – After only a few weeks of working together, a troupe has enough experience to pick up on context clues and mannerisms that helps to improve the success of a scene. Not only are they speaking and demonstrating, but a new layer of extrapolation enters into the dialogue and they start to anticipate how the scene will unfold.
For innovation, the collaborative team environment is crucial to developing and evaluating an opportunity pipeline. Once the team is established they start to anticipate debate, identify logical gaps, and improve the quality and creativity of their efforts. Yet, the group does not need to be static – the support and collaboration can be contagious and is transferrable. As new members rotate in, the foundational skills remain and a new set of opportunities emerge.
As I learned in my own acting experiences– we aren’t innovating or improvising without a safety net – we are working from learned skills that only help us to take on the unknown with more comfort, a sense of creativity and a dash of additional certainty.