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Improvisation and Entrepreneurship – Where “yes, let’s” Meets Business

By Kailey DeLuca –

Last fall, I somehow ended up taking both an introduction to entrepreneurship course and a theatre improvisation course. Despite not knowing it at the time of registration, the two fields have quite a lot in common. Here’s three areas where the two fields overlap:

Trinity, Improv, theater

1. Saying Yes

The fundamental rule of improvisation is to say ‘yes’ to whatever opportunities spring up within the scene. To reject an offer is to close yourself off to new opportunities and exploration.
For example, your scene partner may choose to endow you with the qualities of a sheepherder named Steven. Rejecting this offer prevents subsequent exploration of the character of Steven and how his experiences as a sheepherder may affect his characterization and the scene. By saying ‘yes’ to the offer to become Steven the sheepherder, you may let go a bit of control over your own destiny, but you also allow the scene to unfold in an unpredictable way.

From ideation to implementation, startup companies are built upon saying yes. A business idea must be accepted before it can grow, and partners must enthusiastically say yes to the company mission if they are going to motivated to work towards it. When working with clients, fledgling companies may have to say yes to unexpected clients in order to build a portfolio and stay afloat – but through this experience, they may find the perfect niche market or solution to a previously unsolved problem.

Saying yes to new opportunities allows both improvisers and companies to explore, which prompts one to leave their comfort zone to chase new, hopefully fruitful ventures.
Even if chasing these new opportunities does not work out, the improviser and company does not have to wonder “what if” to accepting them. They can simply accept the result and move onto the next opportunity.

2. Working Within Limitations

Improvisers rarely have unlimited control over their scenes; instead, they must follow the rules of their game or take suggestions from the audience. Doing so forces the improvisers to work within the box and make the most of limited resources. As counter-intuitive as it seems, confining oneself to the rules of the scenes leads more creative, and frankly more fun, scenes.

For instance, the game “three item monologue” required actors to answer three questions within the span of a short, one-minute monologue. Actors had to think creatively to answer vastly different questions within the time limit. Although limited in their ability to pull in new sources, the actors offered funny and insightful monologues. In a similar way, scenes with clear boundaries flowed better than scenes with no rules at all. Knowing that one’s character had to exhibit specific characteristics allowed those qualities to shine. Actors have to let go of control and create logical worlds out of limited resources.

Likewise, a startup has little control over the circumstances surrounding the company’s launch. Entrepreneurs must work with limited budgets, deadlines, and capital to release products. Instead of letting these obstacles stifle work, successful entrepreneurs must be flexible to work with them. The most successful companies thrive in spite of obstacles, because their teams rely on quick wits and creative solutions to overcome them.

3. Partner Flow

Within an improvisation scene, you must rely not only on your own wits, but also that of your partners. Scenes require mutual trust and respect for one another; since partners cannot discuss beforehand what to accomplish in the scene, all decisions are made on stage. You must depend upon your partner to accept your ideas and offer his own for the benefit of the entire scene.

Partners must know each other’s various strengths and weaknesses in order to better highlight each person’s ability. For instance, if I know from past scenes that my partner is talented at performing accents, I may endow him with certain characteristics that highlight this ability. On the other hand, if I know that he absolutely despises performing with an accent, I will work the scene to avoid this possibility.

During a pitch like that of the Stumberg competition or Shark Tank, partners must trust in each other’s ability to convey their business plan and expertise without consulting each other mid-pitch. Each partner must be able to rely on the other to perform well and improvise should the pitch fall off-script.
Company team members must rely on one another to complete their individual tasks so the entire company can function and move towards a common goal. A team without trust will never be able to thrive.

In conclusion, improvisation and entrepreneurship require similar qualities – the ability to work with others and within set limitations and the courage to say yes to new opportunities. While these qualities alone do not guarantee success on stage or in the market, strengthening them better allows teams to implement creative solutions for the benefit of others.

This post was originally posted on 11/02/17 on the Trinity University Entrepreneurship blog.

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