by Nancy Mikkelsen

July 15, 2021

The Art of Improv


When you hear improvisation – what comes to mind? Musical impresarios? Riffing rappers? Comedy folk working out on a stage asking for a suggestion? All are forms of improv. An article in the Washington Post titled “Art In An Instant: The Secrets Of Improvisation” described Improv like this:


“Improv is about opening up, loosening mental controls and saying “yes” instead of “no” to create something meaningful. This kind of creativity can be a powerful force. It’s strong enough to shape the brain, to engage the brains of others — and to build a world of surprises.”


What does Improv have to do with managing a project? EVERYTHING! Improv skills can help Project Managers handle the constant sea of change we are in these days. Things are not the same as the were 2 years ago (sometimes they are not the same as 2 days ago!)- business and leadership has changed!


Here are some basic skills in improv that you can apply to your next project with a little thought and a bit (ok A LOT) of practice:


  1. Be specific!

    Clear statements of purpose and being sure everyone understands that purpose is critical to your project. Does everyone KNOW that the reason your project is even happening is that your business is growing at 20% per year and things need to happen differently to keep up! Communicate that and understand that everyone might need to hear the message differently at a different time!


  1. Try saying “yes And” more often!

    Actor-comedienne Tina Fey wrote about it in her book, Bossypants. Once an actor sets a scene, the others aren’t expected to just agree. They need to add something to the story and keep it moving. Don’t try to NEGATE something just because you don’t like it. Try building on ideas instead of dismissing them.

    (oh and p.s.…this is NOT easy!)


  1. Accept that everything may not go as planned.

    There is a saying in improv: “What you are about to see has never been seen before and will never be seen again…” Your project may go sideways off the proverbial rails, deadlines are missed or output is not what it should be. You can either sink into despair OR you can acknowledge that in order to move forward, you might need to fail sometimes.


Pick one thing and try it on your next project meeting! Go be creative and build that world of surprises!!


Plus, listen to the "yes And" in action in our podcast!


Nancy Mikkelsen

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