How improv will save your company’s creativity, one offer at a time
Picture credit: Adam McNicol www.adamfilms.co.uk
“This sentient shoe-shine machine is rose-scented…”
It happened in the ‘One-Oh-Fun: Play Your Way To Divergent Thinking’ improv session that The Offer Bank ran yesterday. The location? Huddle 2018 – the massive, thrilling, annual all-day splurge of creativity and connection set up by cutting-edge global media network agency Mindshare. The group? A glorious glut of talent from a wide range of companies – InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), Mumsnet, The Wall Street Journal, 20th Century Fox, and even Mindshare itself – all of whom were not improvisation-savvy but were up for fun and willing to learn.
The Offer Bank co-founder Francesca Reid and myself ran our special brand of divergent thinking-orientated exercises in the 50-minute taster, including a participant favourite: the game I invented and have snappily named The Agency Agency (more of which later).
It was a simple sentence from the aforementioned game: “This sentient shoe-shine machine is rose-scented” that gave me a lightbulb moment. Seemingly gobbledy-gook, it made perfect sense in the moment and inspired a new wave of laughter and applause in the room. However, it was the teamwork of the brave pitch trio (a partnership of strangers created in the moment and given, on the fly, an outlandish product to sell the rest of us) that was really impressive. Seamlessly professional yet sassy and completely credible, the trio, out of the blue, explained in detail to the delighted room their brilliant new product. Zero planning; maximum positive reaction. And it made me realise, yet again, that we humans are infinitely resourceful and imaginative.
The Agency Agency (snappy; I know) is a game so-called because, as a corporate trainer, I’ve dug deep into the teachings of socio-cultural psychologist Albert Bandura and his work on agency and self-efficacy. Yes, that was a mouthful. But the concepts that Bandura explored (effectively ‘adaptability’ and ‘confidence’) are more relevant today than ever. Bandura said that agency is “acts done intentionally that enable people to play a part in their self-development, adaptation, and self-renewal with changing times”. Put simply, and without his even intending it, Bandura’s work is an ode to improvisation. And – as voiced at the end of our Huddle session by one happy participant –it’s really a form of ‘fake it till you make it’.
The pitch continued. The trio reassured one of ‘the panel’ (the rest of us) that, “Since the shoe-shine machine is sentient, it’ll know that you’re allergic to rose and will change its smell accordingly!” (More laughter). “Obviously rose-scented is the most popular,” chimed in the third pitch-team member, “But we are also trialling mint, strawberry and cantaloupe.” Beautiful.
What Francesca and I always instil in our Offer Bank sessions is that this participant didn’t, in their wildest dreams, expect to be saying anything like ‘rose-scented sentient shoe-shine machine’ when they woke up that morning but that it’s wonderful how frequent, spontaneous and satisfying bursts of creativity are par for the course in improv. The power of our imaginations will always, given the right group set-up and training, outrun nerves or negative knee-jerk reactions. Improv will make creative geniuses of us all.
A big thank-you to Mindshare, Huddle 2018, and to our fantastic session group for their generosity and wit. See you at Huddle 2019!
By Victoria Hogg, Co-Founder, The Offer Bank