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Beautiful essay, Michelle. The re-learning of these principles is, indeed, the key to personal and organizational growth in the Networked World. We all have the potential to remember how it was when life didn't follow a script written for us (or by us), but was instead a series of amazing discoveries. And having remembered, we can get there again. This is not only possible. It is essential.

Thanks for the post!


Thanks so much, Mike. Yes, love it...before the script we lived in non-stop amazing discoveries...and it is essential we reconnect with that now.

Bob Kodzis

Wow! Michelle, you captured it so beautifully. Rock on. Keep improvising!!


Thanks, Bob. Took a look at your web site - fun! Love what you're up to.

Alan Post

I've just started working with an improv group that tells improvised stories at bardic circles in our community. We're still norming, and trying to figure out how we best work together. I love how succinctly you put all of this together, and particularly how you help articulate the reason I started doing this in the first place--I wanted skills that I could apply to other complex processes.

Thank you!


Thanks so much, Alan. I am delighted that you connected with the article. Bardic circles sound great!

Robin Horton

Wonderful. This is what every client needs.


Thanks Robin. I agree and love bringing improv-based programs into organizations. I also think every high and college should have improvisational theater courses as mandatory. I know some MBA programs and some community development programs are using it.

Carl Nobile

This has helped me into a greater understanding of the whole emergent applied-philosophy phenomenon, Michelle! Thanks!


Thanks Carl. 'm so delighted it was helpful.

Carol Ross

Thank you, Michelle, for taking me deeper into the nature of improv. The seven principles are a nice reminder of how so much of what we learn growing up and as an adult in the working world needs to be "unlearned" in order to get different results.

The application of these principles to the business world and workplace has the potential for profound impact. Thanks for doing the work you do.


Thanks so much, Carol. Yes, I am passionate about the application of these principles to set the stage for profound change.

Tom Graves

Many thanks indeed, Michelle - I've been adapting principles from Keith Johnstone's classic 'Impro' for use in business-contexts, so this takes it all to another level of detail.

From my own experience (mostly in enterprise-architecture) I would add a Principle Zero to your list: "When you get lost, return to the Vision". You've actually described this above, as your starting-point for the performance: the 'two locations' provided by the audience. In a 90-minute play with experienced performers, that's probably all you'll need; but in an organisation, dealing with 'improv'-type contexts at every possible timescale from seconds to decades, we need something more stable to return to when the inspiration vanishes (or when we get too lost, confused or tired to remember where we are...).

The Vision for the organisation needs to be as succinct as each of your other seven principles. It's not a marketing-statement, but a descriptor of the 'world' that the organisation chooses to be in, and the overall aims and desires of that 'world'. It's unique to each organisation, and literally 'sets the stage' for everything that it is and does - exactly like your 'two locations'.

Two presentations on Slideshare about this that may be useful:
- 'What is an enterprise?' http://www.slideshare.net/tetradian/what-is-an-enterprise (about the 'stage' and 'audience' for 'organisation as improv-theatre')
- 'Vision, Role, Mission, Goal' http://www.slideshare.net/tetradian/vision-role-mission-goal-a-framework-for-business-motivation (about how to frame the organisational equivalent of your 'two locations')

They're both written from an enterprise-architecture viewpoint, but should be easy translate into 'Principle Zero' terms for 'organisation as improv-theatre'.

Hope this helps, anyway - and thanks again.


Teachers are told to plan, plan, plan. "Failure to plan is planning to fail" is the most common aphorism about teaching I hear.

How does one 'plan' improvisation? I do it by starting a lesson with a provocative comment and letting conversation go where it may. At the beginning of the year I cut in at appropriate times to teach listening, "yes, and" or "no, because." and other conventions of civil conversation, but as the year progresses I can sit back to watch and listen without having to actively engage.

Our system of schooling tends to destroy student imagination and creativity even if we don't intend to and we must make deliberate efforts to teach and leave room for improvisation and other creative activities.


Loved your slide shows, Tom, thanks! I especially like how you included the "trust economy." Trust is such a big part of the co-creative process.

I resonate with what you said about Vision as it is a powerful part of my own work with organizations. I also think in terms of Purpose as a core organizing principle - the thing to return to when things get "messy." What's great about emergence is that goals, and sometimes even mission, can evolve and change as an individual, team or organization begin to engage their creative process and go deep into their foundational drives, and then Purpose serves as that stable ground on which to return.

You bring up food for thought about what is it that keep our plays coherent. In our form of improv, I'd say the focus of creating a 90-minute comic play is the vision (the intention) - it is what we keep coming back to. The improv principles are the tools to do that. The locations simply serve as the entry point.

What's missing for me in that particular performance model is that the goal is just to create an entertaining play. I miss the connection to serving the larger whole, behind the performance; and the interpersonal transformative potential. So, that is what I focus on with my clients when I bring Applied Improv-based learning engagement into organizations…using improv for serving the greater good, purpose, mission, vision and goes beyond goals for change and transformation.

Thank you so much for the links you provided and introducing me to the term Principle Zero. :-)


Educationontheplate: thanks for your comment about engaging improvisation by starting with a provocative comment. Great idea!

Tom Graves

Hi Michelle - many thanks for feedback etc :-) - and glad you found the slidedecks useful.

I probably haven't explained Vision well enough above, because unfortunately it has several distinct meanings, and it's easy to blur them together. To try to separate them, I tend to use 'Vision' (cap-V) to mean 'that which does not change', and 'vision' (l/c-v) to mean 'the guide for what we're aiming to achieve right now'. (You might find it easier to use 'Purpose' for cap-V 'Vision', but even that too has several overloaded meanings.)

Probably the key point is the layering of how all of this vision/role/mission/goal stuff works. For your theatre practice, for example, the unchanging top-level Vision provides "the connection to serving the larger whole, behind the performance". The Role is improv-theatre; the Mission is the collection of capabilities (your-plural skills, the physical theatre-space, and the organisation and other structures such as advertising, bookings, payments etc) that enable performances; the Goal is a timeboxed performance (date, start-time, duration) with its own success-criteria and so on. Within that Goal we have the 'vision' or core reference-point _for the performance itself_ - which in your case consists of those two locations provided by the audience. This detail-level 'vision' changes with each performance, and hence is not the same as the Vision that underpins _all_ your performances.

If we think of your performances etc as an enterprise in the sense that I described in the 'What is an enterprise?' slidedeck - i.e. your troupe as the organisation, the theatre etc as your supplier/partner, the audience as your customers, and so on - then it's straightforward to adapt those principles above to _any_ organisational context, whether for-profit, not-for-profit or whatever. In effect, that's where your work and mine overlap :-) - and hence would very much like to discuss these ideas further with you, 'cos it seems likely there'd be some useful synergies there.

Again, hope this helps, anyway.


Thanks for clarifying your terminology, Tom, and offering your enterprise framework. Love the perspective! And, yes, would love to talk more.

Yes, the principles and practices are easily adaptable to any type of organizational system, group situation or even relationship. I've been using Applied Imrpovisation in organizations (and w/leaders and entrepreneurs) for the past 9 years and have it found it to be incredibly powerful via the Quantum Leap Improv (http://www.creativeemergence.com/improv.html) part of my business. I also offer a course, Creative Facilitation Using Improv,to help others do the same.

Precipice, the performing group, serves as entertainment. It's a great learning lab for me, but doesn't carry with it the deeper meaning and purpose I get form helping my clients apply principles and practices toward toward the triple bottom line: people, profit and planet. I am passionate about the transfomative power of consciously applied improvisation.

I look forward to a real time conversation :-)

Scott Davis

Love the post. I think Viola Spolin's book IMPROV FOR THE THEATRE is a gold mine of leadership wisdom for non-thesbian organizations of all ilks. Wrote a post on applying these principles with quant jocks here ...


Keep the great contributions coming!


Thanks you, Scott! Love your post - and your whole blog - as well :-)

paul z jackson

Super article, Michelle, which I'm reposting to my millions of contacts right now...

Michelle James

Thank you so much, Paul! Means a lot :-) I hope readers of this post will check out the Applied Improvisation Network ning group: http://appliedimprov.ning.com


Loved this article, Michelle. Had been thinking about how business structure needs to be organic, alive, minimal structure, flexible for growth and change, but your article was out of the park! Great (and timely!) food for thought!

Michelle James

Thanks so much, Cris! I am so delighted to hear that!

Flemming Funch

I was in an Improv group in Hollywood for a couple of years and really loved it. It was really surprising to me how much it added to all my other fields of activity. Learning to be in the moment, pay full attention, be in sync, have no agenda, say yes to whatever happens and take it further. And it is an amazing feeling when it works. Starting sentences without knowing how they end, taking a step forward and something to step on materializes.

Michelle James

I feel the same way, Flemming - find that exhilarating. Thanks for your comment! Improv changed my whole life, far beyond the confines of the performance stage. After doing improv for a while it's hard to go back to the flatness of planning everything. There's a palpable difference in the energy in a room when people speak/react/engage/generate from the fertile moment than speak from the from what was planned. The latter might be more polished and comfortable, but it lacks the true aliveness you can only find in the present. That can't be faked.

Bob Woody

I'm so glad a tweet I received directed me to this site. I'm a musician interested in the processes of creativity and expression. The principles here, as well as the comments, are really interesting. Just as some have pointed out their application to domains like the business world, I definitely see parallels to much musical creativity. I recently wrote about a creative session between John Mayer and two other musicians at:


Great article, Michelle. I'll be checking back in the future for more!


Thanks so much, Bob! I am not a musician, but have read articles around jazz improvisation and the creative process, which mirror my experience with improv theater. John Kao write a whole book on the metaphor in Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativity. I loved your article as well - just tweeted it!


Brilliant, thank you Michelle. I was reminded me of Peter Drucker's 7 origins of innovation in his 1984 book "Innovation and Entrepreneurship", for example 'unexpected success' and 'unexpected failure' -- it's how we react or respond that makes all the difference.

Genevieve Roberts

Love this! Thanks Michelle! Just recently had a fabulous time at "Thriving In Uncertainty" Applied Improv Downunder. An outcome: I am establishing a local Improv Group. Hey, you're coming yo Oz later in the year, aren't you? Hope we catch up then! I'm going to Gathering '12.
Genevieve :-) @EcoWellsprings


Thanks so much, Genevieve! I imagine that AIN Downunder was awesome! Not sure if I can make it to Melbourne this year (due to schedule), but will see you there if I do. And if not this year, definitely at next year's Gathering :-)

Sharon J.

I love improv acting! I like the definition to your blog, as well.


Awesome, Sharon! Thanks so much.

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