By Kelly Leonard – Executive Director, Insights and Applied Improvisation
Could the key to effectively communicate with diverse audiences lay in the muck of our bad decisions? Is it possible to “architect” our way to engagement through small choices rather than big changes?
We have been immersed in the world of Richard Thaler and his theories on choice architecture found in the New York Times Bestseller he co-wrote with Cass Sunstein called Nudge. In brief, “choice architecture” is the design of of different ways choicescan be presented to consumers and the impact of that presentation on consumer decision-making. You might have seen Thaler in Adam McKay’s oscar winning filmThe Big Short, as he described economic theories in the company of Selena Gomez.
Decades of behavioral science has taught us that human beings make a lot of bad decisions for themselves. We often engage in excessive optimism when reality is telling us something quite different; we default to doing nothing when matters are too complex or overbearing; and we even suffer from “postcompletion error:” which is when we forget important steps once a task is completed. A good example of this is when we leave our ATM card in the machine after we get our cash.
Have you noticed that many ATM’s now make you take your card before you get your cash? Well, that’s a nudge brought about by the direction of choice architecture.
Thaler contends that we need to see ourselves as the choice architects of the world we are living in – at home and at the office. If we are clever enough to understand why people make the mistakes they do, we should be able to create environments that limit or eliminate the ability to make the wrong choice.
Drum roll please: improvisation gives people practice in choice architecture.
Whether it’s rewinding scenes; playing emotional option games; or playing a game of freeze tag, improvisation gives individuals experiential modeling in designing environments that lead to actions. When you are improvising, you are making all sorts of decisions on who you are, where you are and how you are.
But here’s the kicker, we aren’t improvising by ourselves. That means that the improviser is both designer of and servant to the choices being made inside the scene. The gift of this lay in being an active participant inside an environment where we can see how our various and different choices can and will lead us to various and different outcomes.
So how does this play out in the business world? In a number of ways – one of which involves our need to effectively communicate to an increasingly diverse workforce – diverse in body and location. Knowing the roots of choice architecture, we have to work with the assumption that simply saying the thing, doesn’t mean the thing gets heard – much less understood.
We need to meet people where they are. We need to find varied ways to frame our conversations and we need to engage in dialogues, not monologues.
We have to be aware of our own status inside the conversation. What if I sit at the same level of the audience that I’m talking to – will that change how a message is sent and received? You bet. What if I let everyone else speak before I offer up my ideas, can thatnudge the outcome I’m looking for? Absolutely.
Thaler and Sunstein write, “Unfortunately, some of life’s most important decisions do not come with many opportunities to practice.”
They’re 100% right. The best thing you can do to increase the effectiveness of your messaging and communication is to practice. Improvisation is just that practice.