Improvisation and business culture
// by Matthias Rensing
Agile Consulting, Organizational Development, People & Culture
„Preliminary and right from the start temporally restricted regulation (in delineation from organisation). These are ad-hoc regulations that are created intuitively (controlled by feelings) or heuristically (driven by experience). They do often only have a preliminary character since the thorough analysis of their underlying decision situation is omitted. Improvisation is a sign of insufficient organisation (sub-organisation). In organisational science, improvisation is juxtaposed to organisation. While organisation is striving for a permanently and comprehensively structuring of division of labour systems, improvisation deals with the structuring of a limited number of cases. The image of a not thoroughly thought-through solution is often associated with improvisation; however, this label is not generally applicable.“
novum: Mr. Rotermund, in your presentation, at events, as well as in publications, you bring up the element of „improvisation“ time and again in connection with management and leadership. One of your repeatedly used event partners is – significantly – the „placebo“ improv theatre, which stimulates and trains the improvisation ability of the attendees in its workshops. Why improvisation in business?
Uwe Rotermund: Actually, because not everything can be organised. There are a lot of areas in day-to-day work that are characterised by surprises. Especially in difficult situations, improvisation talent is important in order to remain able to act. Good and experienced managers know when to achieve better results with improvisation and when improvisation would be rather dangerous.
novum: With your „improvisation message“, are you more aiming for the decision-maker level or is this idea generally suitable for situations in professional business life?
Uwe Rotermund: Of course, everybody gets into the situation one way or another where he/she is forced to improvise or be able to improvise. This does not have all that much to do with the degree of decision-making expertise, even though decision-making situations are a natural for improvisation.
novum: In business literature, improvisation is often mentioned as a tool for innovation and/or innovation management, sometimes also for crisis management. Juxtaposed to it are the elements of „organisation“ and „planning“. When you are juxtaposing the terms „improvisation“ and „organisation“ with one another, what does come to your mind spontaneously regarding this juxtaposition? And, asking further, is innovation only possible with improvisation?
»Improvisation is more than a diversion method in situations of disorientation«
Uwe Rotermund: One must not misunderstand the factor „improvisation“ as a necessary evil in situations of disorientation. It refers to an attitude of freedom from planning, chosen intentionally to discover or allow for something new. This helps in innovation processes when it is – for example – about new products or approaches. But this does, of course, also help in moments of crisis when one cannot rely on something familiar, when experience in and by itself is, as such, insufficient. The results of different patterns of behaviour – organisation and planning on the one hand, improvisation on the other – all contribute to the treasure trove of experience.
This pattern is also what we are pursuing in our events and workshops: first the analysis, then the playful loosening up and improvisation, then in all seriousness and at the same time in all freedom, the question: what to do? We deal with completely normal challenges of day-to-day business life with this changed instrumentation. But the whole also needs this „normal“ background, since improvisation is lacking power without an objective.
»Build the other one up«
novum: The subject of improvisation training is primarily located in interpersonal communications. One rule of improv is to „build the other one up“. This does not sound like rivalry and competition. How suitable are such exercises for day-to-day use and which value position is behind such a rule, in your opinion?
Uwe Rotermund: I am convinced that competition is not a good strategy because competition means loss of energy and the necessity to „share“ a defined „pie“. Pure competition does weaken even the winner, cooperation is the better strategy. Just like a maximum of willingness to cooperate is part of improv theater in order to jointly create something good from few facts, its rules: „Build the other one up“, „Say yes“, „Saving another is mandatory“, are also all cooperative attitudes in their purest form.
novum: This fall (on September 25, 2015), you are inviting to the Business unusual Forum 2015. Here, you are making thinking outside the box an implicit component of the name of your event. The title of the event is „Quo vadis management? From the mighty pyramid to the network buzzing with energy.“ What‘s awaiting your attendees at BUF 2015?
Uwe Rotermund: For one, a „management exorcist“, a man who explains why management is not just superfluous but also damaging. While I personally would not go quite as far, it is going to make things particularly interesting. At the BUF, we feature provoking statements, provoking keynotes. We let ourselves get informed and inspired by smart thinkers regarding management theories. Subsequently, we discuss these in interactive small groups and check them for their practicability. The objective is to instil the courage for change in people.
»Quo vadis Management?«
novum: And what do you wish for from your attendees?
Uwe Rotermund: That they bring along a lot of openness, a lot of experience, a lot of opinion, and the willingness to actively participate in the event. For this, we did – in particular – introduce the „barcamp“ format in which guests can bring themselves in with their very own contributions and subject themselves and their opinions to public discussion, seeking out discussions with others. We already have announced exciting contributions and are looking forward to what else might come by September.
novum: Thank you very much for the interview and a lot of success at the Business unusual Forum!
noventum consulting GmbH