Acclaimed author, journalist, BBC Radio senior producer and founder of Applied Improvisation Network Paul Z. Jackson brings his unique brand of leadership to the Philippines this week at the Manila Improv Festival, which includes a talk at Fully Booked High Street, brought to us by Silly People’s Improvisational Theater (S.P.I.T.) and Management Strategies. We exchanged some Q&A with Paul to give our blog readers a better idea of his creative approach to solutions in the workplace. If you find yourself interested in Paul’s methods, we invite you to attend the talk at our Bonifacio High Street store this Thursday, June 27. (Click here for more info)

Here’s how our brief Q&A with Paul went:


1. Leadership and improvisational comedy seem to be a curious mix—and yet a marriage of these two seems to be at the core of your message. How does improvisation help one be a better, more effective and creative leader?

Paul Z. Jackson: We’ve seen improvisational comedy on stage or on TV, right?

Well right now in the world’s top organisations, the tools of improvisation are helping individuals and teams to deal with change and complexity. By increasing people’s capacity to be spontaneous and work together generously, these tools enable leaders to be more effective in terms of presence, agility and communication skills, often in difficult situations.

And they are using exactly the same skills that comedy improvisers need to create instant scenes, collaborating with each other, with no script, in real time in front of a demanding audience.

The fact is, people and teams in organisations improvise a great deal of the time – but they don’t always realise that’s what they’re doing.

From leaders in particular, what’s needed is awareness, a sense of relationships, an instinct for making useful moves, and a willingness to change direction when required. The leader takes complexity into account, understands the interplay of variables and sees the task as one of eliciting creative responses to new situations.

We’ve been thinking of leaders as planners and it’s time to think of them as improvisers. Improvisers make the best use of the resources available to them, they adapt as circumstances change and they are expert collaborators. Leaders generate and articulate visions and inspire people to work with them towards those visions. So improvisational leaders know where they want to go; and they work strategically, tactically and co-operatively towards it.


2. In a TEDx talk, you speak of the power of ‘Yes…and’. How can this improvisational skill yield positive results in making the world a better place? In business, politics, society? How about one’s personal life? Any examples?



‘Yes.. and’ is at the heart of improvisation, and it represents the performers’ willingness to listen carefully, to accept what is offered (to a scene) and then to build on it in an appropriate way. The performers who do that certainly make the stage a better place. Now the practice of Applied Improvisation puts that same spontaneity and adaptability to work in non-theatrical settings, offering an approach that enables all of us to achieve more with less.

These non-theatrical settings start with personal life—to build confidence and creativity, for example. Then they apply at team level—to increase good collaboration, better team-work. And in organisations or communities as tools for innovation and positive change.

Improvisation helps us to change the ways we describe and think about our organisations – from a framework that positions them as rigid, mechanistic and predictable, to a landscape of complexity, adaptation and possibility. And of course we need the principles and skills of improvisation to equip ourselves for success and progress in this new environment.

Instead of detailed plans, we propose more emergent ways of working—knowing what you are aiming for and knowing what small steps to take in that direction. Then you look again—each time with fresh knowledge of what has happened most recently—and respond in the light of that new information.


3. What experiences in life led you to believe in the importance of creativity and improvisation? What motivated you to share what you learned with others?

My life has not always gone to plan, but it’s gone well when I have responded to what’s around me. For example, I’ve helped build the A.I.N. into a worldwide network of more than 3000 people. I reckon if you want to know the future of commercial companies, look at today’s voluntary organisations. This is where you find people doing what they want to do, are willing to do, and where they tend to have a sense of doing it together.


“Unleashing the Creative and Innovative Leader In You Through the Magic of Improvisation”, a talk by Paul Z. Jackson will be going on at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street this Thursday, June 27. Learn more here. It is part of bigger event, the Manila Improv Festival.


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