Why I decided to complement my MBA with improvisation theatre training in London

Author: Dr S. Rutili, DVM, MBA

Every time I get asked about what I have learned going through the MBA, I never fall short of material to talk about. However, the why and the how of the Cranfield MBA cannot be publicly revealed (cultivating the mystery so you check out the link – is it working?). As a rule of thumb, one has to go through their MBA journey to figure it out for themselves; specifically, when it comes down to the Cranfield MBA – they have their special ways in Bedfordshire. It would not make it justice to reveal all the tricks. It would spoil the fun for the many generations of Cranfield alumni yet to graduate.

Now, what I can reveal: the MBA aims at transforming people, turning them into leaders, team players, strategic thinkers, enablers and most importantly, people’s listeners – invaluable personal attributes, if one is to drive growth in ethical ways.

So, this is why improvisation theatre is aligned with MBA teachings. Of course, it’s slightly less harsh, feels more like a never ending party and there’s no marking involved; apart perhaps the reaction of the audience gathered in the room. Nevertheless, it teaches the type of mindset anyone serious about doing business can benefit from, and at a much lower cost than going back full-time to University.

There are merely 3 rules to follow to become great at stage improvisation:

  • Rule#1Say “Yes and..”: this is the rule that enables the story to develop. It builds on each player’s offers and ideas. The moment someone rejects an offer (aka blocking), the story stalls. It is not entertaining for the audience to watch; none wants to disappoint their audience.
  • Rule#2Say the first thing that comes to your mind: unlike comedy stand up, being witty is not at all expected, because due to the nature of the craft, comic situations will happen. This is not the right place to try and outsmart other players (painful for the audience). Instead, it is focused around spontaneity – a generosity of mind. None is afraid to expose themselves, i.e. it’s impossible to wear masks.
  • Rule#3Make your partners look good: none is the star of the show but the story. It’s about creating an act out of few suggestions gathered within the audience the minute before. There is no scripted story to rehearse, no time to be a narcissist. Creativity happens in the moment. It’s teamwork in action pushed to the extreme. Bashing other players is pointless. Subsequently, there is plenty of room allowed for failure, because team members have each other’s back – and they mean it. 

Therefore, those 3 rules enable an improvisation team to create psychologically safe spaces, where each member can feel included and supported by their peers. In such environments creativity can flourish because people do not fear being rejected. People will make happen what was initially thought impossible; even the most introverts. Short scenes or entire plays are born out of nowhere, delivered in front of an audience who can never have enough of it. This is pretty satisfying to watch for everyone.

So, how does improvisation theatre relate to life in business? It is very easy. Our world is getting more and more complex a day after another. On the other hand, societal changes have contributed to the development of an increasingly diverse workforce. Great stuff, because to cope and keep up with the pace, businesses must resort to individuals capable of bringing to the table a variety of skill sets, different ways of doing and ways of thinking – much more than it used to be the case a few generations ago. Organisations can’t escape diversity and even more so, they need to understand how to effectively practise inclusion within a diverse world. Those organisations whose managers are unable to crack the codes of inclusion are going to hit the wall – take it from a trained veterinarian; selection of the fittest businesses applies here, and it is deadly.

As a result, what is there not to love about improvisation theatre when it trains at low cost those essential leadership skills in the funniest way possible? It’s time for many organisations to stop speaking fluff and to start jumping on the stage! Equally, there is much to learn for managers from acting teachers on how they engage with their teams of students. They are ideal people’s managers/leaders to draw insight from – for example, you can know more about Jonah Fazel, one of our teachers here.

Note: all the people pictured above are not professional actors. They work FT jobs in the City and I am convinced they are helping the world getting better day after day.

Anyone interested to crack the codes of inclusion through improvisation theatre training can look up several places delivering courses around the UK for both individuals and corporates. Historically, the company by which the “troubles” happen is called Hoopla!. It operates from studios located in London Bridge and Moorgate.

Photography: A. Wilding & friends – CEO and founder at vidiCREW

Photo edits: S. Rutili

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