Allowing for the unplanned

Organizational Development, People & Culture

Training and coaching with methods of improvisation theater

What it is about

Improvisation and intuition skills are two important skills for personal communication. Improvisation is closely related to the concept of intuition and can be derived from it. As a form of intuitive action, improvisation is subject to similar laws as intuition. I would like to derive this in the following, in order to outline possibilities of practical application afterwards.

Practically, we - placebo - organize and design seminars, trainings and events for companies. In doing so, the topic "improvisation" is often in the center of attention. Our origin is improvisational theater, and we support professional everyday communication.

Why it makes sense to allow your intuition to take over

Intuition rules the world

Software is considered to be particularly successful when it is intuitively accessible to the user. People make decisions for each other based on their gut instinct, found families, live in partnerships, and shape societies. And even voting for a particular party is often intuitive. Successful captains of industry would do well to literally "listen to their gut" at times. After all, what alternatives do they have? The more complex challenges are, the less suitable are conventional problem-solving strategies such as trial and error, segmentation or rational penetration. In a 2011 television interview, physics Nobel Prize winner Prof. Bernd Binnig commented: "It's a matter of following intuition. Because intuition is based on our entire thinking apparatus, not just the little bit of logic. This huge, complex apparatus can deal with complexity because it is itself so incredibly complex. And it can then be a guidepost for us."

Stop thinking when you're practiced

People unconsciously learn patterns and make spontaneous judgments in a wide variety of situations. These quickly surface in consciousness, their deeper reasons not fully conscious, but strong enough to act upon. In other words: people act intuitively. Especially when they have built up knowledge and competence in an area over a longer period of time, they can increasingly pay attention to their intuition when making decisions.

How can intuition be trained? How can we professionalize our intuition? Why should we do this? Subjective conviction often falls short: the trust people have in their intuitions is not a reliable measure of the correctness of the subsequent decision.

Correct intuitions of experts are usually due to the fact that they take in cue stimuli with a high degree of prognostic correctness, even if the expert's analytical thinking does not yet have any terms for it.

Training the 7th sense

An interesting method to face the personal handling of unplannability, especially in communication, is that of improvisational theater. There, the players act intuitively throughout. In the stage form, a facilitator first asks the audience, "Where is the next scene set?" "What are the two actors about to fight about?" Immediately, audience members shout their suggestions on stage, one is accepted, and immediately the stage action begins.

For an interplay of actors to work, the actors need a shared understanding of intuition and improvisation. Only then can touching stories and theater worth seeing be created. In improvisational theater there are rules and principles for this.

1. Say "yes" to your fellow actor's ideas.

2. Be courageous.

3. Make the other person great.

4. Do the obvious.

5. Be honest.

What do these rules have to do with communication in business contexts?



Companies recognize the importance of improvisational skills in business. A plan (even a business plan) is never reality. In planning, you don't design anything, you think about what you could design. In reality, personal actions are ultimately exposed  to coincidences and unplannability to a very high degree, regardless of how detailed the preparation for the respective challenges is.

In 2009, the director of BASF Coatings said to me in an interview, "An organization that is able to improvise certainly has a competitive advantage."

Last year, a client approached us with the following question: "We are planning a trade show appearance for September. We are thinking of organizing communication training for our employees in order to optimize our approach to trade fair visitors. Is something like this conceivable?"

What's interesting here is that you can apply and utilize the work around the concept of improvisation directly in everyday work. Working with sales staff on approaching people in a relaxed manner, making small talk light-footed and at the same time purposeful, or approaching people in a fundamentally curious manner can be the focus here.



Dealing with emotion, intuition and irrationality, i.e. topics beyond pure logic, beyond the plan or purely cognitively based methodologies, stands for the second side of one and the same coin. The second side has been successively pushed into the background in the historical development of economic realities and is underrepresented in the scientific consideration of economics. In concrete work with people, however, it becomes clear how important it is to work on and develop precisely these fields as well. Intuition and improvisation are promising "door openers" here.

Oliver Pauli

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