Applying improv in times of crisis

A crisis is not necessarily negative or bad. It is merely characterized by a certain degree of risk and uncertainty (Fink, 1986).

Some scholars even argue that companies and organisations benefit from the effects of a crisis, in that it helps develop the system by providing its individuals with opportunities for learning and change. Crises can enable an organisation to identify structural problems, gain skills at adapting, develop new strategies and to gain competitive advantage by questioning its usual management understanding (Pauchant, 1992).

However, our natural response to perceived threats (flight, freeze, fight) obstructs our capability to recognize the opportunities a crisis offers. Instead, organisations often respond to crises with a downward spiral of behaviour, including less communication and a centralising of power and influence. Increased concern for efficiency leads to conservation of resources and greater behavioural rigidity (Staw, 1981)

So how can we prevent this downward spiral and create an environment in which they organisations can make the most of these opportunities?

Applied Improvisation - an approach that puts the principles and techniques of improvisational theatre1 to work in non-theatrical venues such as corporations, academic institutions, organisations, and professional groups - has proven its worth in organisational and leadership development in ‘normal’ circumstances. But it also proves a powerful ally in times of uncertainty.

Applied Improvisation aims to counter the destructive fear mechanisms mentioned above by promoting a mindset to recognize and embrace opportunities, by stimulating the skills to enhance them, and by providing the tools to create an environment in which dangers can be safely explored and transformed into possibilities.

This article aims to describe the P.L.A.Y.! principles of Applied Improvisation and to explore its use in times of uncertainty. It describes the conditions under which the principles can be applied most effectively and lastingly.