Ask a casual observer what they think the key skill of improvisation is, and the chances are they’ll say something like “quick thinking” or “wit” or “having a creative mind.” Actually, while these are all helpful assets, none of them are what improvisation is truly built on. The absolute fundamental activity of improv is – noticing. Noticing everything – what is being said, and what is not being said; who and what is around you, and in what mood or state; what they are doing, both consciously and unconsciously; what is happening at this moment, in real time. Not what you wish was happening; not what you are imagining, planning or scripting in your head; what is actually occurring, in reality, right here and right now.
Because when you are working collectively without a script, which is what improvisers do, you can only co-create effectively with your fellow players if everyone is on the “same page”, and that means everyone noticing everything that everyone else is doing, even the stuff we normally filter out. Especially the stuff we normally filter out. That’s why we say in Improv “everything is an offer”.
The same is just as true in the off-stage world. If, for example, an organisation wants to be agile, responsive, and able to adapt quickly to the needs of customers and the market – in other words, able to improvise – then it needs to truly notice what is going on. It needs to hear what customers and stakeholders are saying, see what competitors are doing, realise what else is trending, understand what employees are thinking and feeling. Not what it wishes or hopes were true. Not what the PR department tells the world. Not what the CEO decrees. It needs to notice the reality, the truth, contained in all the offers that surround it. Only then can it do what improvisers do best – build on those offers to create something better.
Take the Improv Intiative, and learn to notice more.