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Improvisational Leadership: Use Improv to Avoid Leadership Pitfalls

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Most of us aspire to be great leaders—passionate, inspiring, thoughtful and productive. But we all know people in the business world who do a terrible job in leadership positions: awful bosses, disengaged department heads, ineffective team managers, and otherwise bad bigwigs in nice offices who make the work environment an unpleasant one.
So if we all have the potential to be great leaders, where do some go wrong? Perhaps some leaders have developed bad habits; some lack an understanding of what it takes to be a good leader; and some feel they’re leading well simply because they’re focused on their intention to lead, not the results of their leadership. I specialize in bringing improvisational skills to the workplace, and one of the key elements of improvisational thinking is the ‘self-audit’—the ability to be aware in real time of how you’re doing your job and how your actions and leadership style are impacting those around you.
A regular self-audit can keep you from slipping into one or more of the following leadership categories. If you find that some of your language, actions or habits are on this list, don’t worry—some simple improvisational techniques can help you fix them.

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Collaboration—and Improv—Help Fuqua Team Win Energy Case Contest

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Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 3.04.46 PMCollaboration, as many MBA students quickly learn, is key in a business environment. For four Duke University Fuqua School of Business students, that collaborative effort fostered an important victory on the road to a potentially fruitful career.

Paige Swofford, Liz Arnason and Mike DeNoia, Masters of Environmental Management (MEM) and MBA dual majors, alongside Daytime MBA student Yochai Ben Haim—all first-years at Fuqua—nabbed first place at last month’s Challenges in Energy Case Competition held at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Teamwork was essential to their victory, but their collaborative bond had formed long before the group entered the competition. Read More

Adapting an Improvisational Mindset

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by Patty Gaul

Achieve better business results by communicating differently.

With the increasing discussion around innovation, and the need to do business differently, many organizations are turning their usual way of operating on its head.

Many are working to instill a culture where risks are welcome, making small changes in process that can lead to new solutions, and asking questions to spur new thinking. One method that can support these changes and which is gaining ground is that of using improvisation.

Bob Kulhan is—along with Chuck Crisafulli—author of the soon-to-be-released Getting to “Yes and”: The Art of Business Improv. Kulhan is president, CEO, and founder of Business Improv, which creates executive education programs for top business schools in the United States and abroad, as well as leadership development and experiential learning programs for corporations, including many Fortune 500 companies. Among the organizations that have pursued Business Improv are Google, the Ford Motor Company, the U.S. Naval Academy, the United Nations, and Hilton Hotels.

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An Improviser’s Guide to Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse

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The Zombie Apocalypse is upon us! The government has collapsed. Communication is down. Chaos is the new order. What do you do? Who do you team up with? How do you survive? On Sunday, October 23, the premier of Season 7 of The Walking Dead (TWD) will air. What follows is a memorandum on how to embrace change and thrive in the unexpected, told through the lens of an improviser.

Before we begin, let’s acknowledge that most of us already live in a world based in VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity), at least in one form or another. It is also important to remember that in times of Crisis, Risk, Stress and Uncertainty, we fall back on our most overlearned behaviors. They are part of our muscle memory, and we rely on them. Because of that, we must remember to deliberately develop and strengthen a skill set that we can fall back on in turbulent times. Improvisation will be key to surviving a zombie apocalypse.

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How Improv Can Help Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Win the Debate

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Bob Kulhan is Founder and CEO of Business Improv and author of Getting to “Yes, And”: The Art of Business Improv”, out in January

They should apply the ‘yes, and…’ technique

If the primaries taught us anything, it’s that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should fully embrace the tenets of improv heading into their first presidential debate Monday night. This is tricky because American politics are as pre-packaged as a can of pork and beans. But once we get past the over-rehearsed lines that presidential candidates regularly regurgitate, we’ll have a real opportunity to see them “go off script” with a reactive and adaptive style of communication known as improvisation….

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9 surprisingly effective job interview exercises from improv coaches

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9 surprisingly effective job interview exercises from improv coaches
The tools of the comedy trade can help you rise to the top of the talent pool.
by Dominique Rodgers, Monster contributor

A successful job interview requires confidence, thinking on your feet and quickly finding the right words to impress your audience—the same qualities that improv comedy performers need to demonstrate on stage.

And the very exercises they use to prepare can also help you make a great impression. Improv exercises can “allow the interviewee to really make a connection with the interviewer and make the interviewer feel like the interviewee really grasps onto any information that is shared,” says Rebecca Stuard, creative director of Improvolution in the New York City area…

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Why Top Companies and MBA Programs are Teaching Improv

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EXECUTIVE MBA PROGRAMS AT DUKE, MIT, UCLA, AND STANFORD HAVE REALIZED THAT LEADERS NEED TRAINING IN HOW TO FAIL.

It’s the standard business school storyline: A manager decides to get an executive MBA degree and starts classes with a bit of a chip on her shoulder.
“You may have reached that point in your career where you’re middle management, you’ve done many things right, you’ve had some failures that you’ve learned from, [and] you could be molded into thinking you’ve figured some things out,” says Michael Desiderio, executive director of the Executive MBA Council, a nonprofit association that works with more than 200 universities and colleges that offer executive MBA programs.

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Using Improv to Improve New Business

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Made famous by sketch shows like “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and UCB comedians, improvisation has become a much-loved form of comedic entertainment. But what happens when improvisation takes a less likely route and is applied to business practices? After an evening at Access Confidential’s “Business Improv to Improve New Business” workshop, it turns out there are more than a few lessons that can be borrowed from improv to enhance interactions with coworkers and clients.

Below are key takeaways from the interactive, high-energy event, hosted by Business Improv CEO and Co-Founder Bob Kulhan. (P.S. Kulhan, pictured at top, was trained by Tina Fey, so you know he’s good!).

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5 Methods for Getting to the Heart of the Empathetic Leader – by Bob Kulhan

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Which is more important as a leader: the head, the wallet or the heart? Trick question: all three.

Oddly, many leaders view their success in terms of personal financial growth, status and increased company profitability. In doing so, many struggle with or ignore how to connect, engage and show empathy to the people they lead.

If the old adage “People don’t quit jobs, they quit people” is true, then there are huge benefits in leading a company where employees feel cared for, respected and understood. So, given our overall workplace culture, where taking the time to connect personally is seen as a distraction from getting business done, how can you add more empathy to your leadership style without sacrificing productivity?

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The 5 Secrets of a Presentational Ninja – by Bob Kulhan

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Even with great products, wonderful news, and groundbreaking announcements, one thing still determines if the presentation is a success or failure: the presenter.

A great presentation can change the path of your career, steer your company to untold success, and ignite people’s interest in your product or service. But even with great products, wonderful news, and groundbreaking announcements, one thing still determines if the presentation is a success or failure: the presenter.

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How Improv Rocks This Learning

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Going off the cuff helps learning and performance. Take it from Ben Folds, jazz musicians in an MRI machine and an improv company’s founder.

Orchestra. Although he didn’t play “Kate” — a personal favorite for obvious reasons — he did deliver on the one thing every audience member expected and waited patiently for: his improvised song of the night that always has the same title but never sounds the same twice.

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No Laughing Matter…How Improv Improves Business.

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Robin Williams will always be remembered as the improvisational genius that was forever present in the moment, and the only thing faster than his mouth was his mind. His speed and focus allowed him to feel the audience and change direction on the fly. Although Mr. Williams made improv look like riding a bike, very few people can upstage him or would even try. But was his skill innate or learned, and what can we, as business executives, study from his ability and apply to the business world?

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Getting to “Yes, And” How improv comedy skills became a must-have for entrepreneurs. By Seth Stevenson

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A few years ago, for complex reasons, I attended the orientation week for Columbia Business School students. The week involved team-building exercises that forced us to solve problems together. It included a module on ethics, in which we were asked to respond to hypothetical dilemmas. There was, of course, a near-lethal amount of alcohol consumption. And, one morning, as we gathered (quite hung over) in the auditorium, we did improv.

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How Improv Can Open Up the Mind to Learning in the Classroom and Beyond – By Linda Flanagan

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Long before Amy Poehler became famous for her comic roles as Hillary Clinton on “Saturday Night Live,” and as indefatigable bureaucrat Leslie Knope on “Parks and Recreation,” she was a college freshman looking for something to do outside class. During her first week on campus, she auditioned for the school’s improvisational theater group, “My Mother’s Fleabag,” and discovered a passion. “Everyone was getting to act and be funny and write and direct and edit all at the same time,” she writes in her memoir, Yes, Please. “My college life sort of exploded in happiness,” she adds.

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The Introvert Entrepreneur – “Yes, And” and Beyond: A Conversation with Improv Pioneer Bob Kulhan

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Stand up in front of a group. No script. No prep. No rules. This is improv… in a way. It’s not quite as scary as that, even though that set-up is likely to send many an introvert running in the opposite direction. And in fact, what looks like a completely spontaneous improv situation actually DOES have rules, and there are ways to prepare yourself. Sure, there’s no script, but life doesn’t have a script, so who needs one? View whole story here.


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Eight Keys to Better Brainstorming

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Check out this article, written for Training Industry Magazine by our very own Bob Kulhan, for some fresh new tips on leading a better brainstorm!

Every business has to overcome countless obstacles on its way to success. Hard work can carry you a long way, but any company (no matter how hard working) can be left behind when it doesn’t problem solve quickly and creatively. 

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Yes, And.. Improv Techniques To Make You A Better Boss – By Lindsay Lavine

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Many of our favorite comedians launched their careers in Improv, but it’s also a tool for leaders to communicate more effectively with their employees. And, no, it’s not about comedy or trust falls.

Charna Halpern, co-founder of iO (formerly ImprovOlympic), a Chicago and Los Angeles-based theater and training center that launched the careers of comedians like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Mike Myers, says business leaders can benefit from incorporating improvisation techniques into their leadership style. Halpern says iO emphasizes a high-level communication and collaboration.

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10 Ways to Create An Improvisational Workplace – By Bob Kulhan

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Clients often come to me looking for ways to make their company more creative and innovative and their employees more communicative and assertive. Instead of focusing on nebulous buzzwords like “creativity” or “leadership,” I encourage them to start from a foundational level and work towards building a more improvisational culture in their workplace. This can be achieved with a handful of actionable steps.

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Why “Yes, and…” Might Be the Most Valuable Phrase in Business. By Bob Kulhan

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We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

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Lessons from Disney on succeeding in changing times – By Robert Kulhan

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Disney is set to unveil its fourth cruise ship at the end of this month: the Disney Fantasy. It comes at an uncertain time for the cruising industry. Little did Disney executives know at the time when they began implementing the operation that many consumers would become skeptical about a sea-worthy vacation in the wake of the Costa Concordia capsizing in Italy earlier this year. Recent reports that 22 Carnival Cruise Lines passengers were robbed while on an excursion to the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta has only contributed to further skepticism.

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Best Business Schools 2014: Duke Tops Full-Time MBA List, Harvard Slips

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Business Improv is super excited for our great friends at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business for their outstanding achievement of claiming the coveted “Top Business School in America!” The Duke Fuqua School is such a phenomenal establishment and produces some of the very best MBAs, who are truly prepared for the workforce when they leave. We’re so proud to be able to partner with the #1 Business School in the country! Duke Fuqua was where Business Improv all began and through their great partnership, we were able to launch the world’s very first credit bearing improvisation business class; a class that will be in it’s 16th iteration this coming January. Once again, congratulations!

In addition to that exciting news, we are also thrilled to announce that our other fantastic University partners, Columbia Business School and the UCLA Anderson School of Management, were ranked #5 and #11 in the country, respectively! What an incredible honor to partner with three of the top eleven business schools in the country!

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Eight Keys to Better Brainstorming

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Business Improv is thrilled to welcome you to our blog! We’ve been hard at work coming up with a lot of great content to share with you, whether it be through posting newly released articles, showing you our latest video, or just sharing our thoughts on improv’s role in business and beyond. We’ll be posting regularly, so check back often!

To kick things off, we’ll start by asking a simple question: Is your team brainstorming for new ideas at its highest potential? Check out this article, written for Training Industry Magazine by our very own Bob Kulhan, for some fresh new tips on leading a better brainstorm!

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BOB KULHAN: IMPROV 101 (THE “YES, AND…” PRINCIPLE)

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We’re often at a disadvantage when it comes to problem-solving because we think too fast, and our analytic brains shut off new ideas before they have even emerged. Improvisation, on the other hand, creates “a set of experiences that allow you to fine-tune and hone all of the necessary skills needed to think on your feet and simply react and adapt.” So says Bob Kulhan who has been studying, performing and teaching improv comedy for nearly two decades.

The Best Leaders Give Up the Reins

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unknownIn order to view this fantastic interview, you’ll be asked to take a moment and create a free account with our great colleagues at Leadercast. With this account, you’ll be able to instantly receive Leadercast’s current special report, and get access to wonderful content, for free, each month.

NPR – EVERYONE’S A COMEDIAN? NOT AT IMPROV SCHOOL

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Improvisational theater isn’t just for aspiring comedians and performers anymore. Improv classes and workshops are popping up in Seattle, Portland, Boise, Spokane and Eugene. Companies and business schools are taking notice. Reporter Julia Flucht is in one of these classes and reports on how the improv mindset can produce creative results beyond the stage.

DUBAI, UAE

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Robert Kulhan Assistant Professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, talks about “improvisation” that is also applicable in business other than theatre or acting.

Have you heard the one about … By Christopher Mason

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EXECUTIVE MBA PROGRAMS AT DUKE, MIT, UCLA, AND STANFORD HAVE REALIZED THAT LEADERS NEED TRAINING IN HOW TO FAIL.

Does the secret to success in the corporate world lie on the stages of theatres and comedy clubs, rather than at the boardroom table? An increasing number of people in business education circles seem to think so.

The likes of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, MIT’s Sloan School of Management and Columbia Business School have offered business students teachings on improvisation and its application to the world of business.

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