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Mindfulness and Improvisation


By Kelly Leonard – Executive Director, Insights and Applied Improvisation

“…great improv rarely comes from thinking. It’s more commonly developed from being, observing, and listening in the moment. By being present, improvisers move away from the thoughts in their head to become more aware of their surroundings, gathering full-sensory information that can drive more intentional, rather than automatic, choices and reactions. This heightened presence is similar to other cultivated states of immersive moment-by-moment awareness, otherwise known as mindfulness.”

  • Jordana Cole, “I’ve Got Your Back: Utilizing Improv as a Tool to Enhance Workplace Relationships,” University of Pennsylvania, Scholarly Commons

Full disclosure, both my wife and I are cited extensively in Jordana Cole’s thesis about Improvisation and Positive Psychology. But I think Jordana is onto something deeper and transformative in her thesis.

When I talk about the power of improvisation, I often refer to it as “loud, group mindfulness.” That line always gets a great reaction. But, to be fair, I am nowhere near a scholar or practitioner of “mindfulness.” But the comparison that I am drawing on – and the one that Jordana digs into – is that improvisation demands that one be fully present and mindful within groups, rather than in a quiet space with gentle flowing water and barely audible sitar music.

Improvisation is mindful within the noise.

Jordana calls it, “a multifaceted state of presence.”

I’m not knocking mediation or any solitary state that allows individuals quiet, sole reflection. Rather, I’m suggesting that most of the time – at work and at home – we are not alone, we don’t have quiet and, likely, the demand is that we must reflect rapidly torespond.

And how do we achieve that state? By being practiced in improvisation.

The benefits of this in the workplace seem undeniable. More present and attentive behaviors can only improve the internal dynamics of co-workers as well as the external dynamics between clients and audiences; The ability to adapt and react in real time with agility and grace is an essential skill in our increasingly change-oriented work lives; and if we are practiced in the art of perspective taking, aren’t we increasing our ability to see the full equation as opposed to our singular view of the business landscape in front of us?

These are business superpowers.

Jordana sums it up this way, “Through improv training, I contend that individuals learn in a playful and humorous way to be present to each other, and to non-judgmentally co-create by accepting and building on others’ ideas. Through this newfound knowledge, they can adapt and assimilate behaviors that breed trust, intimacy, connection, understanding, and collaboration. In doing so, they are able to build and sustain positive relationships in the workplace, thereby driving positive business outcomes.”

Who wouldn’t want that?

why improv


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