Tales from the Unstuffed Shirt

An invitation to the game

This is the initial post from our semi-regular blogger and corporate guru Steven Beauchem who will be offering insight into the marriage of improv and business.

“What will undo any boundary is the awareness that it is our vision, and not what we are viewing, that is limited.” ~ James P. Carse

Awhile back, I stumbled upon the book Finite and Infinite Games, a fast read (by the philosopher James Carse) on the idea that all of human existence can be interpreted through the lens of gameplay. Many of the details have faded into the dark corners of my brain, but the thing that sticks with me to this day is that the opportunity exists in everything we do to choose the type of game we will play. We can play finite games, where the focus is on identifying winners and losers. Or, we can play infinite games, where the point is to invite others to play at the ongoing exploration of possibility. Improvisation anyone?

These ideas were on my mind again as I recently led a team of consultants at a particularly challenging client.

We were working in an environment where there’s an ongoing cultural struggle between “old guard” and “new guard”, and we were smack-dab in the middle.

Every day presented potential landmines as a finite game played out, but our team managed to remain above the fray. As other consultants were been shown the door, our team continued to receive the respect and approval of all the players involved. How so? By leveraging the tools of improv to play at infinite games.

It turns out that the techniques and spirit of improvisation are critical to engaging colleagues and employees in this exploration of possibility.

While the modern corporate mindset is evolving, most businesses remain anchored in zero-sum thinking. We succeeded by inviting our team and our client to play, and by creating a safe environment to do so. It is easily as fear-inducing as stepping out onstage and asking for a suggestion, but great relationships and ideas are created when you show up, pay attention, give and accept gifts, embrace your mistakes, and (above all else) say “yes, and!”

I’ve sat and talked with lot of improv students who are studying to gain a leg up in their day jobs—like improv class is a more fun version of Dale Carnegie. While I truly respect their efforts and hope for their success, I can’t help but feel that they’re seeing the trees but missing out on an amazing forest.

As improvisers and professionals, we should be evaluating success based not on the laughs we get (which are nice) or the size of our paychecks (also nice), but on the number of people who are interested in continuing to engage with us in play—onstage or in the workplace. While improv can be used to “win” (a finite game outcome), real change comes when we leverage the power of improv to explore the possibilities together.

Live - Laugh - Love.

As Martin deMaat said, “You are pure potential.”

Steven Beauchem is a strategist and consultant helping clients to excel in the digital world. He studies and performs improv in Chicago and San Francisco, and is passionate about leveraging the ideas, energy and techniques of improv to drive innovation and cultural change in the corporate world. In his spare time, he is a board member at Stage 773, home of the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, and is also developing a new improv performance series (expected to launch in Chicago in spring 2017). Steven's writings here are his own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employers or clients.

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Written 1 year, 11 months ago.
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