You see it time and time again. The stand-up is going great and the audience gasps for air between jokes. Then as the laughter quietens down, a lone heckler tries to derail the comedian by saying something like, “when does the comedy start?”.
Usually, the comedian follows up with anything from a quick jab to a slow roasting 10-minute grill of the heckler. But no matter the length, one common theme seems to be ubiquitous; the comedian is a master of improvising at his own show.
When actors, musicians and artists improvise, many people believe that it’s a chaotic blend of spontaneous thoughts and reactions. In other words, their innate ability puts them significantly ahead of your average person. While this is party true, another vital ingredients is often overlooked – framework.
3 simple rules
Here’s a simple process in which you only need to remember 3 rules to provide structure amidst the chaos:
Rule 1 – Listen: you can’t be preparing what you are going to say when the other actor is speaking because you won’t be listening to what you need to react to.
Rule 2 – Always say “Yes”: always be open and positive to whatever had been suggested. Words like “but” and “however” are banned as they suck the energy out.
Rule 3 – Commit: even if you don’t know what you are going to say or think your response is not going to be very good, deliver the lines with passion and energy, you will get some surprising results.
How does this apply to business?
Every day you have “improv” moments. That hallway conversation. The meeting discussing user requirements. Training users in new functionality. Running a business process workshop. Dealing with the consultants or developers. Trying to understand what was configured to clean up an Org.
Even presenting on stage, such as Dreamforce, is improv. Not the presentation because you have planned and rehearsed it. But the Q&A. This is the equivalent of heckling at the comedy club, except hecklers are gentler and retorts are less biting.
Running a Salesforce project often feels like an improv. Admins, developers, users and consultants are all jumping in with alternative perspectives. The trick is to make it all look as effortless as the improv professionals.
Making it real
Let’s take the example of a discussion with end users about a process improvement of a business area. The meeting is to understand the requirements, agree the new business process and recommend a solution, so you can build the right solution.
This is true improv. Anything could happen in the meeting or workshop. And often does.
“I have run 100’s of these workshops over the last 20 years, and I still get nervous before everyone, have moments where it all seems to be falling apart as I am losing the audience, nearly always get shared agreement, and by the end I am exhausted mentally and physically because I have been concentrating so hard.”
There are two parts to the solution, first of which are rules. Rule 2 “always say yes” is a great example for everyone. Constantly saying “No” kills the energy and can slow down team momentum. Taking the, “Yes, and” approach opens up possibilities and can skyrocket progress. The risk, of course, is that it can lead to the scope exploding – and no-one remembers what was agreed.
This, of course, is the major difference between improv comedy and improv business. In business, you need an approach to documenting the results. This needs to be a process framework that is quick enough to roll with the discussions.
There is business analysis or process mapping standard called UPN (Universal Process Notation) that is designed to be used in live workshops to engage end users. It is also quicker and easier to understand and learn than flowcharting or BPMN type approaches. You can learn about process mapping in this free e-book, or by watching this short video.
Improv can deliver staggering results
Business analysis really becomes powerful when combined with improv skills. Your confidence running workshops will soar. Your end-user engagement will dramatically increase. Your ability to home in on what users want, not want they thought needed, will be off the chart. Which means you can build the right stuff. And that is what makes an #AwesomeAdmin
Read the book and then attend this improvisation in a business session at Dreamforce.