I’d like to round up every manager in every business in America, chain each of them to a clammy, stone wall somewhere, and teach them improv until their eyes bleed. Not only would it be fun for me, but they would thank me once their mind-shattering rage had passed. All of their employees and their bosses would thank me too. I’ll bet I would get presents.
I don’t want them to be funny. No one wants that. People would be less happy with funny managers, if that’s conceivable. But improv isn’t necessarily about being funny. Come see me on stage sometime and I’ll prove that. Improv’s about learning to employ a certain set of skills such as agreeing with your partner when she says you have a cow’s tongue in your pocket. But the most critical, least respected improv skill is… Listening. That’s the one I’d love to help our business leaders get comfy with.
Paul Williams said that some people listen, and other people only wait to talk. Working in business has taught me that some people don’t even wait to talk. In fact, some people don’t just fail to listen, they actively employ defective listening. If you say “cat,” they will hear “catastrophe.” If you say, “European debt,” they will hear, “It’s my fault we’re losing money, sir, and I’m an under-achieving dweeb. Let me pack up my autographed Firefly model and my Dilbert mouse pad before you escort me out.”
You know these managers I’m talking about.
So I propose that a good, healthy round of brutal improv training should take care of this. Some of these managers will cry. Maybe a lot of them. That’s okay, it’s a normal part of the process and will give them empathy when they hand out insane deadlines and take away benefits. Almost all of them will learn to listen and become better managers, when the alternative is dangling by rusty iron manacles until they starve. A few will find they have a talent and love for improv, and they’ll carry away happy, misplaced dreams of glory. And a few idiots will think they’re so good that they hop the next bus to Los Angeles, removing them from the management pool forever.