By Kelly Leonard – Executive Director, Insights and Applied Improvisation
I recently got back from a business trip to London with my colleagues Steve Johnston and Kerry Sheehan. Steve heads up Second City Works – the B to B arm of The Second City and Kerry overseas all our Training Centers – including the launch of our new Harold Ramis Film School. We had a ton of fantastic meetings, ate great food, saw a show and talked endlessly about our work over many, many pints of beer.
We talk a lot about our work.
And that is because we are profoundly lucky to labor at something we love. We are also well aware that we are outliers. The vast majority of individuals work to earn. Their jobs don’t inspire or ignite them; or, worse, they suffer under rigid hierarchies and cruel leadership.
Many people (most people?) are stuck.
As Steve and Kerry and I were talking, it dawned on us that if you break down the work we do at The Second City – across many of our various divisions and projects – an immense part of our focus is in getting people unstuck.
One of the reason the Spolin improvisational games are so effective for beginning improvisers is that they force the players to model andunlearn all the negative behaviors that become habit as we get older: denying, blocking, concealing, judging. The revelation that so many of the students have is just how good they feel after class. Just by “acting” with empathy for three hours, their general mood and outlook is positively transformed.
Similarly, when we bring these practices into businesses, there are audible exclamations when we talk about how people “felt” when playing the games – and how this ties directly and deeply to the engagements they have with coworkers and bosses each and everyday.
When we are stuck we are unable to be creative. And creativity is essential in our personal and professional lives.
In London, we were lucky enough to be hosted for an amazing lunch at The Woseley on Piccadilly by an old friend of mine who is now a senior marketing executive based in the UK. He brought along a few other business leaders and we went around the table to talk about what we do and why we do it. This is a group that shared very little in terms of cultural upbringing, socioeconomic position or chosen field – but the one common was our united belief that the key to success in any line of work, is the holistic engagement of a motivated team of people. And that we all spend way too little time tending to the emotional well being of our workforce.
We need our people to be unstuck.
So this is what we do at Second City and we’re actually very, very good at it. We understand the behaviors and environments that contribute to the state of being inert; we have practices that get people unstuck and we seed the kind of collaborative spark that gets people to create things that are sticky.
Later at the pub, we landed on the thought that it is absolutely vital to remember that getting unstuck is not a guarantee for staying unstuck; that just like going to the gym for one workout won’t keep you in shape, your emotional intelligence will not stay heightened after a single improv workshop. No, this is a practice and for it to remain fully effective, you have to stick with it.