Applying improv to business, storytelling, and what-have-you (part 2)

See part 1 here of my experience at the AIN2006 Applied Improv conference. See part 3 here and part 4 here.

The Innovise Guys (Doug Stevenson and Gregg Fraley) ran a session that was described as an introduction to Innovisation(tm), although I’m not really sure what it was specifically about. They started after lunch and so things were late. And trying to facilitate a room full of facilitators was challenging, since everyone wanted to take the discussion in new ways, and each bit of facilitator-ese they offered up (“okay, let’s rock and roll, since we’re getting low on time”) was countered with a participant’s own facilitator-speak (“Gregg, if I could just honor that rock with some roll of my own, and ask….”). It wasn’t entirely clear what the session was supposed to accomplish; I think their idea was the power in combining improv activities with stuff from Creative Problem Solving (you may remember I considered attending their conference earlier this year). The exercises didn’t seem to work, however. In one, the group was given a problem (“help me find an inexpensive fuel-efficient car”) and asked to throw out words. Some words applied to the problem but by design the suggestions drifted into the random and silly. Then we stopped and looked at the list of words and use them, one-by-one, as seeds for generating actual solutions. In another, an improv game was staged where the actors were product development people trying to slogan, package, advertise, and create a jingle for a new cereal product. They were instructed to respond with the usual “yes, and…” but with extra enthusiasm. And we the audience were supposed to…do something…build on these ideas somehow. The whole approach left me somewhat cold (and soggy in milk?) since I’m not convinced coming up with ideas is anyone’s big challenge. Connecting those ideas to an actual problem, prioritizing ideas, and sorry for being obvious here but ensuring those ideas have some resonance with the people you are targeting them at…those are the tough problems. Play-acting as marketing people may be fun and feel creative, but it doesn’t automatically solve the right problems the right way. Maybe I’m being too literal and the point is to think of the right setting to use this stuff. It’s one thing, then, to offer facilitation tips for meetings, but another to frame it as a trademarked methodology for innovation.

Although they were charming and personable as facilitators, I still don’t buy into the whole creative-consultant-as-clown routine. These guys have created characters for themselves, gently, with a caricature-style logo (above, although neither of them have brown hair any longer, so…), and matching outfits (big black bowling shirts with slogans stitched on ’em, baggy khaki pants, and matching brightly colored silly shoes). Why?


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