Improvising Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

by Randy Murray on November 10, 2011

One of the most important skills I learned while training in the theater was improvisation.

Improvisation is not “making it up as you go along.” Improvisation is a process of discovery, experimentation.

The best experiments have limits and controls. When actors improvise, they don’t start with a complete blank page, they start with a concept. When they begin, they make choices. Some choices work, others do not. That’s what you learn as you improvise again and again: what works, what doesn’t. Over time, you learn about successful choices and can quickly adapt to new situations and concepts. To others, it appears that actors on the stage are comic geniuses. Perhaps they are. But what’s often happening is that those actors have practiced and learned what works best in similar situations. They have created paths that let them think quickly, make excellent choices, and respond quickly. It appears dazzlingly effortless.

What you might not expect is this: improvisation is a terrific practice outside of the theater.

Too much of work is straight line: we want to build X and here’s how we’re going to do it. That typically results in the ordinary, pedestrian products and services you see every day. If you want to build something extraordinary, you have to improvise, experiment, play with the possibilities. You have to work at improvisation.

You can do this behind closed doors, for example, if you’re developing a physical product. Instead of building one product, try and see how many ways you can solve the problem your product addresses. Prototyping can be a form of improvisation, especially if you build multiple prototypes.

If you’re offering a service, listen to what your clients ask for. Try a new approach with them. Develop a relationship that will let you both find a way that meets their needs best. Then take what you’ve learned to a new client and repeat the process.

For both you’ll find that over time you’ll become very good at improvisation. What the world will see isn’t you making things up. They won’t see the work and the effort. They’ll see how you produce products and services with amazing ease. They’ll see brilliance and sophistication.

And they’ll wonder how you make it look so easy.

The Improvising Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Know What You’re Doing by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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