Dan Klein | Designing the Future with Improvisation | Singularity University
It. May look like these, Stanford students, are headed to Broadway but. They have their sights set on silicon, valley from. Poli Sci majors, to engineers, to, MBAs. Academics. Improv, has helped them thrive in a quickly exponentially. Changing, world, improv, people think it's theater, skills building but honestly for me it's been life skills building. And. We'll. Go around the circle and see how many different ones we can add until it falls apart improv. Is performance, that's unplanned, or unscripted. Actors. Create silly sound symphonies. Build. Imaginary. Spaces, out of thin air and. Creates. Stories on the spot I love that cape me, too it. Was blue. But, all of this light-hearted, spontaneity, can, also be a powerful learning tool to. Help people collaborate, think. About the future and creatively. Problem-solve, what are some of the challenges, if improvisers, are getting up doing a scene what are some things that would get in the way of them, doing is acting an improv teacher Dan Klein is on faculty at Stanford's, theater department, the design school and the Graduate, School of Business the improv, mindset, is the. Ability. To notice what, is actually, there and then build on it there's. A few components to it it's saying yes and to, ideas, it's, one of the golden, rules of improv when, you're acting partner gives you a line you, never question, it we're, meeting atoms. Instead. You, accept, it as an offer and then, build on, actors. Call it saying yes and, how. Do lessons we learn and improv. Help. Us in off, stage, about, 20 years ago during there's a big tech boom and a lot of a lot of companies were inviting. Improvisers. In but when. We would give people these creative, exercises, like say yes and to every idea they. Would say but. Hold, on like not every idea is a good idea there's, really dangerous things that could come out of that if I say yes to this I think, the key to get it to work is to say, you know what for this space, for this 10, minutes or for these next, for, this next hour let's, say, yes and every idea was entertain the ideas and run with them and see where it takes us. Klein. Believes if we open ourselves to, new ideas on stage, and off we. Can find important, sources of inspiration that lead us to innovation. And new ideas it's. A must-have skill, for entrepreneurs, in, a world where we're constantly saying, no it's really liberating. To be able to say yes to everything. That comes your way or even more so you have to say yes. The. Best ideas, only, happen when another person hears them an improv. Sense of discovery. And teamwork, also. Promotes good listening improv, is about really engaging. With the world around you listening, to what people say and responding, to that and those, are things that are valuable in, working. In a brainstorming environment. In. Exploring. New ideas in an academic setting those, skills, and reminders, of improv. Totally. Transcend, the stage very, sophisticated, folk. Listening. Is something that I think especially, people my age is a skill that I think a lot of people are losing especially, with the new technology, everyone's on their phones and it's really hard for people to be present, in the moment I. Don't. Know they said that we're gonna go get some moon rocks for us practicing, improv opens, up new pathways to our brain to be more generative. Flexible. And open. To trial and error these. Are critical, skills that, support future, innovation. We. Want to celebrate failure, if we're, messing up we're in new creative, territory, mistakes. Are opportunities. Mistakes. Are gifts. They're. Not just a chance to learn but, oftentimes they're a chance to discover, something new that, nobody was planning. And. That. In turn leads, to unexpected, discoveries. I'm. Really more willing to take risks whether, that be reflected in my engineering classes or my relationships, with people or, talking. To employers. I feel a lot more confident. Saying my ridiculous. Idea, in front of the class because I know it can't be more ridiculous and me fighting evil. Snake in a medieval castle, and people. Are really excited by these like radical, solutions, I have demand. For these types of workshops is growing, Dan's. Clients, include Cisco, Nestle. And Nasdaq. Google. Fidelity, and Nokia all, offer, improv, training to their employees. I think, 100%, improv, is a skill that can be applied to, anything I cannot, think of anything that does, not require creativity. Being, spontaneous. Accepting. Failure and, anything, that you do whether you're a politician with your doctor and engineer because, improv, requires people to serve a larger story and support.
Their Improv partners, it trained. Students, to concentrate not, on themselves, but, on a larger, goal that's, the same mindset they need to do meaningful work in a, rapidly, changing reality. When things, are moving so incredibly, quickly and it's, hard to predict what's gonna happen next and in a sense it's hard to plan for it I think, what improv trains us to do is. Remember. It's not about you that. You're much more. Creative. And. Valuable. And worthwhile. When. You're in service of someone or something else there's. A higher purpose, I have. Always believed. That, you shall wear darker. Shades, color. For, boots because. When you walk. Nobody. It's. Mr.. Nu Adams genius, as always. Dan. How did you first. Get interested in improv ha. Honestly. The. First time I got interested in profit was an improv class and, there. Was a girl who. I who. I had a crush on and she said let's. Take him prof together and I, said yeah okay I'll do that. I didn't, it wasn't what I expected would. Then change. The course of my life so, profoundly, the, classroom, was so, incredibly. It. Was exciting. And dynamic it, was there, the two hours went by in a flash it was, like the, world was exploding, with creativity, and imagination and, it was scary but at the same time my, teacher was Patricia Ryan Madson who, ended up being my mentor. For many years and she, made it so safe. For. Us to take risks and that was what was the most exciting, thing about it like we would step in you know I don't know what's gonna happen but she lets, us know that it's gonna be okay wherever it goes and then we, would marvel at our classmates, and then we'd, get up ourselves and we'd marvel at ourselves it, was an amazing experience I, love that you first got introduced, to improv in the classroom, because. To me that suggests that it's teachable, that it's a skill, set a set of practices, we can all learn I think yes, many of us when we first hear improv we think Saturday Night Live we, think oh you have to be funny or. Just special. And magical. Things, happen up on stage and yet you learned it in the classroom one of the worst things that you can do as an improviser is try to make a joke, because. More often than not it won't work, and then you'll, have that that. Silence, that is it's, the worst death you, can imagine and, so you, learn to not try, to be funny and just, do what's obvious, and pay attention and, make your partner look good and, and. It turns out that it is funny, and it's it's funnier than you ever thought it could be and that doesn't have to be your your plan or your goal everybody. Has the capacity to notice. What's going on pay, attention recognize. It and then add a little bit and just well let's just do that and, you don't have to be talented you don't have to be clever or funny or interesting. Just, pay attention and do what's next, and it. Ends up being amazing, and delightful one of the things that happens when we're acting, in something that's scripted, is we're, planning, ahead or, we're thinking about what just happened, and, improv. Is about getting us more frequently. Into, that space where we're, aware, of the exact moment and.
What's. Happening right now and the moment you're thinking about something else what am I gonna do what I'm gonna say you're taken out of it and the improv is a is, constantly. Getting us to go pay attention to right now so that's that's one of the first things, the. Other thing. That is central, to improv is it, it's all about your partner it's, not about you it's about your partner your job is really to make your partner look good and within. That we teach people to say. Yes to your partner to accept all offers to accept whatever, they come up with it. Doesn't matter what you were thinking, in the moment what your partner just said is a thousand, times better and so. When, we're in that mode, then. Amazing, things happen our own creativity gets unlocked but, we're not trying to unlock it we're, we're, just there for our partner I think, that is so powerful to, practice, being present and, to practice really listening, to others which is the other critical. Thing that I see, happen that good improvisers, are actually great listeners, yeah at the beginning of an improv class, we, try to take language, out of it because when people are talking, they're. Really concerned about how they sound about, whether well the content, of what they're saying if, they generate, words they want to they want to sound intelligent or, sound funny, or interesting and so, we. Strip that away all. The first exercises, are nonverbal, because. I really, want to let go I want to get the ego out of it I want to take away the responsibility of coming up with a good thing to say but, the other thing that we do is by. Letting. People, not. Have to think about what they're gonna say they, can focus on the listening and the paying attention, it's. 80%. Listening. I think, there's another, essential. Piece to this and that is how do we respond. To failure, and. Our. Typical, response. To failure our normal reaction, is to is to, tense up to, look physically, and literally, guard, or protect ourselves we, whenever. Someone makes a mistake they wince, or, flinch. Or cringe. Mistakes. Are opportunities. When, we give. Each other permission, to make mistakes we, bond even faster, and, I think that's the, maybe. The secret sauce like why. Improv. Workshops, why like. Classes, at the at the D school at Stanford that teaches Design Thinking why. They're so. Sought. After why they're so oversubscribed. Is because the students show up in the classroom and they're, told you. Can shoot, for average and fail cheerfully, and, they, and that's not what they were taught, the. Whole rest of their life and when, I when I tell students that when I tell particularly, high, achieving, students, who really put a lot of pressure on themselves to do it right when, I say shoot for average and fail cheerfully, it's, almost like I can see. This. Armor. Cracking. I think. That improv, helps us be more resilient, because we. Get experience. After experience of. Feeling. In our body what, it's like to fall, down in a safe padded. Room, metaphorically. We, get to feel oh that's, that sensation. I sense. Myself, sort of tensing, up or looking, to blame someone or or to, hide or cover my, mistake and if, we instead in that. Moment we say. What. Opportunity. Has just emerged because of this mistake yes if that's the first question you ask it would be amazing what things, will emerge for somebody listening, to this they saying Dan that sounds great but I'm, not sure that's gonna fly in my organization.
How Would you recommend somebody gets started, bringing some of these new ideas yeah. That's a, that's. A good question I always, recommend Patricia. Ryan Matson's book improv, wisdom she taught at Stanford for 30 years in the theatre department but, it's not a book for actors it's about bringing improv, into your life, if you have a meeting where you want to explore, some. Innovative. Or new creative, thinking if you want to do any kind of creative work you, can use an improv, exercise as a we, call it a stoking, exercise, it'll be something that sort of primes, our mine to get ready to be playful yeah and, there's. A there's a couple of them in in improv, wisdom and and, if you ever do an improv class, you'll. Get you'll get them tons, of them but here can I show, you one right absolutely. But. This is I. Really. Like this because it's pretty low-key and it's pretty you don't have to you, don't have to sort of dive in fully you can you can get people to do it just sort of sitting at their seats at the very beginning and what we're gonna do is. We're just gonna create the world's. Worst run-on, sentence we're gonna go back and forth one. Word at a time and, make up a sentence and I like to say world's worst run-on sentence to lower the stakes we don't have to be good at this but it's not just random words it's we're gonna actually try and make a sentence okay do you want to start or you want me to start you start okay, when. I fall. Down, I sometimes. Find. Myself, under. A lot, of. Worry. Because, I, know. That, this, time. Might, really. Be, painful. Which. Would. Most. Definitely. Cause. My. Parents. To, worry, a. Lot. And. That. Makes. Me, very. Sad. Okay. Good oh, yeah. That would be fine so that was that was interesting, and when we were playing that um I don't, know if you notice how the this. Is my experience was part. Of partially, well there. Was a tone, that. Was coming from us that was leading towards the content, like, the content, was, feeding on the tone but also the tone was feeding into the content, like I usually, get people to do it a couple times they would try it with a couple different partners, and the. Recognition. That this is a listening, exercise more. Than it's a talking exercise, is so important, so important, we.
Play This game because, we, want to plan ahead and we get it right and you can't. You. Can't, as if you have it if, you have an idea where you want it to go too. Bad it's. Not gonna go there and, if you're attached to that you won't be able to do the game you'll just be struggling, and suffering definitely. I know you work a lot with teams and I think we're learning more about the neuroscience, of teams and what it takes for teams to work together particularly, in collaborative. Situations. Where again they're tasked to do something new and novel I think that one of the things that improv does is it really helps. People, pay. Attention to, the whole group and the, rhythm within, the group diverse, teams are gonna outperform that outperform. The sort of universally, intelligent, teams like, like intelligence, isn't what it makes it successful there's a diversity. In the team so I always advocate for that and I see that absolutely, working on. Stage and in my classrooms, as well, but. The other thing is turn-taking. Just, the ability, to to. Share control, rather, than having one person dominate, the entire time, it's okay to have a leader that's great but, I but, I think the idea of. Being. Able to trade. Leadership, is really really powerful for a team because, then ego. Doesn't get attached, to, the to the work the. Other thing that that, I know. Really. Works on stage, that, I know there's, a lot of I see versions. Of this in organizations, is when. The there's. A higher purpose, the. People, if the if you are on stage because you want to look good then, it's doomed, from, the start you better be good looking and you better have a good voice and you better be funny because, that's, that's what's gonna get you through but, if as a group, your, goal is to tell the best story, is to, put on the best show then. You, might you, might be the hero you might be the villain you might be the tree whatever. Is needed is what you'll do and when, a team also, has a shared purpose it. Isn't about making. Them look good or making it's not about your own individual, career it's, about who, are we serving here. Or we do, we have. Do we have customers, that are you know they're living with diabetes that we want to make their life better how, if we have a higher purpose than we do better work as a team dan you use improv, to help people, innovate, can.
You Talk about that a little bit sure. Okay. Here's an example of. Using. Improv, to for innovation, I was working with a team from, Cisco, and it was a globally. Diverse team so we were working on WebEx, we were doing a facilitating. Innovation piece, and. And. I, taught, them the idea, of saying yes and building, on each other's ideas rather, than rather, than blocking or shutting down ideas how do you how do you add to the idea and and. It's. Nice to do it with a made-up, imaginary. Thing but I thought, let's do it with something real and so one of the participants. Who was working with emerging, markets, he, said okay, well here's a challenge that we're working on and so, I said okay good let's let's let's, play the game with. That real-world challenge, that you're that he's actually wrestling, with and we played yes and for a few minutes and we sort of batted ideas around and and kind of came up with something and I, went I check back with him I said how did that how did that sound and he said well that's. The idea that my that my team came up with and, I thought oh okay well you know sometimes, we. Use these tools and and you know we're shooting for obvious and sometimes we will get the obvious it doesn't mean we'll always get the most outrageous, innovative. New thing he said no you don't understand, it, took us six months to come up with that idea. So. Yes and not, only gives us new ideas they can also accelerate, the process yes, what, I love about yes--and is, that it becomes part, of the culture as well it gets steeped in the fabric, people don't even realize that they're blocking they, say yes but, exactly. A backhanded book that's right you don't even realize it yourself that's, one of the first things we have to realize, is we. Practice, accepting, other people's offers and then, we start to recognize, actually. This is giving us the. Ability to accept our own offers, and that's where true creativity comes when, you're not blocking yourself before, the ideas even come out in the world there's, a moment. The an improvisor, has, to pay, really careful attention to their partner and they're making eye contact as, often as you can you're looking into your partner's eyes and one thing that they're looking for the great improvisers, are trying to get their partner's eyes to. Light up to. Get sort of delighted, and that's what we're going for I feel like it's not just on stage like, we want that in the boardroom we want that and we want that in team meetings, you. Know we want it we want people to be inspired.