As Bob Kulhan points out in his book, busy executives are turning to the most unlikely sources to gain a competitive advantage. One of those unlikely sources is improvisational theater. While you might assume these executives are trying to get some much-needed comedic relief, Bob Kulhan points to something deeper. There is a talent present in good improv actors that he believes business leaders can tap into for powerful results. That talent is the subject and focus of Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv .
What is Getting To “Yes And” About?
Most of us associate improv with comedy (the popular American show “Who’s Line Is It Anyway,” for example) or a last-ditch effort to keep things from falling apart. But Bob Kulhan is pointing to a deeper type of improvisation in his book. This is the kind of improvisation you see when a trained professional like an ER doctor, Navy SEAL, professional athlete (or an improv master) takes command of a situation spinning out of control. Kulhan argues that this level of improvisation is needed by business leaders who face a chaotic and uncertain future. By developing and practicing improvisation in addition to the skills they already possess, business leaders can spend less time reacting when an unexpected situation hits and more time adapting.
Developing an agile business, however, begins with developing the right culture. The right culture begins with the right team, something Kulhan experienced firsthand while working in an improv troupe. Even though an improv session might seem like a sporadic and uncoordinated event, it is actually a highly coordinated dance between expert performers who know each other’s strengths and weaknesses well. Likewise, in business, a team should be highly coordinated, experts in their particular areas and aware of their team’s strengths and weaknesses in order to pull off an effortless performance.
Once a business has its foundation of optimized teams, the next skill to add is improvisation,When an improv actor is given a line, they have seconds to answer. Likewise, in a business situation, you may only have minutes (or less) to answer. That’s why improv actors and business leaders need to train. Improvisation exercises sharpen decision-making abilities under pressure. While you may not be able to predict unexpected situations to the last detail, you can train your reactions so that you focus on what’s most important.
Kulhan  is the founder and CEO of Business Improv, a business improvisation and strategy consulting company and also serves as adjunct professor at Columbia and Duke Universities. He was instrumental in introducing business improv to Duke University and serving as one of the first core faculty of Second City, one of the most popular comedy clubs and improv schools in the U.S. In addition to all of the above, he enjoys cooking, scuba, and jiu-jitsu.
What Was Best About Getting To “Yes And”?
The best part of Getting to “Yes And” is the unique approach Kulhan offers business leaders for dealing with the future. The disruptive nature of the future is a very common theme echoed in just about every business-oriented book. Most books focus on the technical and operational aspects of this future. Getting to “Yes And” focuses on the people themselves. Essentially, the book answers the question, “How do individual workers prepare for a disruptive future if they don’t practice improvising for it?”
What Could Have Been Done Differently?
Getting to “Yes And” offers a unique perspective on the “prepare for disruption ” theme at the individual and team level. In the rush to focus on that disruptive future, many authors are quick to point out the need to prepare without telling readers how. This book, to its credit, goes a bit further. More attention, however, might be brought to integrating the improvisation into overall leadership development and succession planning.
Why Read Getting To “Yes And”?
Getting to “Yes And” is an unexpected book arriving at just the right time. Focusing in on the unique power of improvisation, Kulhan provides a fun and targeted way for individuals to develop the mental agility required to do business in a chaotic business world. The book is best suited for leaders and managers in businesses where team members suffer from fixed patterns: siloed behavior, overly negative or pessimistic thinking, or a lack of innovation. Kulhan’s fresh approach to innovation using a time-tested technique might be just the thing to start the conversations and establish the mindset needed to spark a creative revolution in your office.