January 12, 2016

9:00 AM - 10:00 AM

Please note: This event is for invited researchers only.

Research is the heart of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), and we want to make sure that we support each other in developing high quality research. To that end, we created a forum for sharing and encouraging POS-related research ideas that are at various stages of development.

Questions about POS Research Incubator Sessions can be directed to Julia Lee at jooalee@umich.edu.

Title: Expecting the Unexpected: An Inductive Study of Performance under Extreme Uncertainty in the Improvisational Theater Training Context.

Abstract: Improvisational Theater is a form of stage performance that is entirely unscripted. Actors are given suggestions from the audience, and, as a team, they must create impromptu comedic skits.  Companies are increasingly turning to corporate Improv training programs for their employees, yet little research has examined the effects of Improv training, particularly in business contexts. In accordance with Edmondson’s (2007) Methodological Fit theory, we conducted an inductive, qualitative study to understand the experience of participants in an 8 week introductory Improv training course. Through interviews, observations, and participatory research methods, we found participants to be particularly anxious about having to react effectively on the spot, and we examined how Improv training teaches participants to generate creative and entertaining content in a high pressure, unscripted context.  We find that Improv courses begin by building safe, fun, and supportive environments, which help participants feel comfortable participating, making mistakes, and taking risks. Then, the classes provide participants with progressive exposure to on-the-spot acting experiences, which serves as a systematic desensitization to participants’ anxieties about performing in an unscripted environment.  During these progressive exposures, teachers provide students with methods, like “Yes, and,” to cope with the pressure and uncertainty of Improvisational Theater. In order to conduct this analysis, we introduce a new construct we call spontaneous proficiency, defined as the ability to achieve one’s goals in unprepared-for circumstances. We find that the unique context of Improv requires participants to practice problem solving without the assistance of pre-planning, which forces improvisors to learn and rely on uncommon problem solving techniques that improve their spontaneous proficiency on the stage.  Finally, we build on this analysis to theorize about the effects of Improv in the workplace and consider the lessons of Improv in both micro and macro organizational contexts.

Bio: Nico Thornley is generally interested in what organizations can do to foster eudaemonic wellbeing. Towards this end, he currently works on two primary research streams.  First, he is interested in how people misjudge the effects of incentives for themselves and others. In particular, he focuses on how these mistakes lead employees to make decisions that will undermine their wellbeing and lead employers to offer incentive plans that may undermine creativity, motivation, and morale. Second, he works with the burgeoning number of Improvisational Theater corporate training programs. He examines relationship between Improv training, creativity, and authenticity in the workplace. He is a 2nd year PhD student at INSEAD.