Managers: Dare to Improvise

Improvisation is born of individuality, creativity and freedom. When used for innovation, the results can be astounding. Yet the challenge is to improvise when our actions are regulated by a company's framework. Marc Prunier, in charge of the Grenoble Ecole de Management laboratory for innovative education (PeriScope), shares with us the virtues of daring to improvise at work and how we can strengthen our capacity for improvisation.


"Improvising means creating something as we go. We are all great improvisers in the private sphere of our lives." reminds Marc. "Who hasn't had to manage an unexpected problem with our kids, with transportation or with administrative issues? And we all manage to improvise a solution." Despite its positive nature, improvisation has received bad reviews in the professional world. "We have to break away from our usual cultural vision that defines improvisation as a synonym for amateurism or  as a means of taking the easy way out."

Strengthen your ability to improvise

To provide us with inspiration, Mark explains: "We forget to listen to the teachings provided by artistic creation. Yet art has much to share for managers. Instead of limiting our improvisational capacity, we can for example learn from a jazz band." To encourage this goal, Grenoble Ecole de Management has launched a school for improvisation. 

By connecting the worlds of business and art, the initiative is designed to facilitate exchanges about experiences and practices in both worlds. In May 2016, the first initiative brought together participants from the business world (Hardis Group, SSII Grenoble, and Majélan-SNCF and ESCA Casablanca students) and the world of art (Mohamed Rachdi, artist, art critic and curator; and Rachid Rafik, artist and founder of the artist in residence program Dar Zagora near Marrakech).

Jazz and world music are built on improvisation

"I like to give the example of a symphonic orchestra and a jazz band. The first is very regulated, much like major western companies, while the second is small and agile. And it's the latter that enables and inspires creativity through improvisation." explains Marc. "Many companies invest great effort and resources in the quest to limit their employees ability to improvise."

The question is why should companies prevent themselves from benefiting from the power of freedom and creativity. Startups, work groups for small projects or small and agile business units all offer advantages from company performance. For the business world, improvising is in fact the ability to detect new sources of creativity and capitalizing on them for the organization's benefit. "Intrapreneurship is based on having the freedom to build on a creation or idea which can lead to innovation." adds Marc.

Improvisation is conversation, eloquence and rhythm

These are the three pillars of improvisation. "A manager cannot force an idea. You have to suggest it." explains Marc. "Listening, having a conversation, can mean taking a risk in which you can't always focus on productivity."

 "To capture the attention of your audience, you must have confidence, honesty and the ability to share and teach. We are only engaged by a message that is passionate." Hence the importance of one's eloquence. The quality of improvisation is to be found in rhythm. "Rhythm provides the energy that organizes improvisation."

In terms of management, the demand for never ending performance leads to a dead end. The idea behind using improvisation is simply to give employees the time to exchange, take pleasure in their work and create a driving force for all individuals in an organization. Improvisation is about rediscovering one's own rhythm, a rhythm that also defines a manager's capacity for agility.

Freedom, exploration, intuition and humility

Marc highlights these four values as being essential to improvisation. When seeking to improvise at work or encourage improvisation, managers may wish to ponder the following:

  • Improvisation requires freedom. Yet this freedom demands a framework that must be prepared in advance.
  • Improvisation requires exploration. It is curiosity. Managers have little time for their curiosity. You have to create time for exploration.
  • Improvisation requires intuition. You have to find it, to believe in it. Have the confidence to lead based on it.
  • Improvisation requires humility. You build humility through listening to co-workers and the environment. There is always more to learn.
Contacts
Marc Prunier