This is a guest post by Simon Scott, who talks about the fascinating academic research he’s done on lean learning– see full bio at the end.
This post expands on a recent talk I gave at Lean Startup Brighton, on my academic research into the skills overlaps of business entrepreneurs and comedy improvisors, and how the findings can assist lean startups.
What’s this topic?
That sounds a bit ambiguous and jargony? I agree. If we’re brave and drop the jargon, it could be called ‘Learning as you go’. A clearer concept now? Yes? Less sexy-sounding? Definitely. I sincerely doubt Mr Ries would have sold so many books if his title was ‘The Lean Startup: How Learning As You Go Is A Powerful Thing That Most People Scoff At’.
Carlos (Laurence’s business partner) suggested a catchier title idea of ‘Improv: An O.S. for Getting Shit Done’. But I digress too far. Let’s stick with ‘Lean learning’.
What has improv got to do with lean entrepreneurship?
Or if you prefer the dry voice of academia:
- ‘Improv techniques provide valuable insight for teams prototyping with new media and are particularly applicable to innovation in the field of entertainment’ (Blaine, Harger 2008)
Or the voice of ubiquitous tech companies:
- ‘Improv as a tool for learning, working and collaboration’ (Randy Nelson, Pixar)
- ‘Manage your company like an improv group’ (Dick Costolo, Twitter CEO)
What is this research then?
The research investigated the skills of value to entrepreneurs from existing academic research, and whether these skills overlapped with comedy improvisors. Confirming the target groups investigated:
- Business entrepreneurs. Specifically those who create something, eg Steve Jobs, and importantly, not business people who manage something that already exists, eg a Starbucks franchise manager.
- Comedy improvisors. Specifically the performance style in Whose Line Is It Anyway, and importantly, not like stand-ups.
Yes these two types of performance are both theatrical comedy, and a stand-up may improvise within his set, but fundamentally this research focussed upon improvisors who are creating a performance in real time, and not stand-ups who deploy their scripted product that they have already developed…which all sounds a lot like waterfall project management… 😉
All a bit wordy so far isn’t it? Did I hear you say ‘Venn diagram’? Great idea. Firstly we have two groups of people who appear completely alien to each other..
Pretty cool huh?
So it appears that improvisors value the same skills as entrepreneurs…and entrepreneurs value the same skills as improvisors…so maybe people could work on entrepreneurship skills through improv…where there are more acceptable consequences of catastrophic failure, whilst still generating real feelings of risk, fear and anxiety, allowing people to develop real skills to then be applied within a real entrepreneurship domain? Mmmm…
And within both groups, one skill was valued as the most important of all…care to guess which skill that was?
Self-development (self-belief, self-awareness, ability to make changes).
Or if we remove the jargon again: Learning.
How many of us have ever been taught learning? Very few in my experience, despite it being implicitly required to develop ourselves, and businesses.
In an improv scene no-one can know exactly what is the problem they are trying to solve, and what an appropriate solution may be, consequently the most powerful tool for an improvisor is their ability to ‘learn as they go’ through the scene, to build a picture of what is actually going on, and to build a picture of a workable solution, and attempt to deliver it within very tight time constraints…which sounds a lot like a Lean Startup relying on Lean Learning 😉
Second part of this post will be coming next week:
“How on earth do I experience this nebulous concept”
I’m Simon Scott, a Scot based in the UK, originally an engineer, worked at the UK’s Motor Industry Research Association, won the British karting championship, lived and worked in Australia for 6 years as a professional actor, comedy improvisor, accredited stunt performer and film-maker, working on stage and screen from self-devised theatre shows to the Edinburgh Comedy Festival to Hollywood-funded feature-films with Oscar winners.
I returned to the UK for a research-led MA in Entrepreneurship in the Creative Industries at the University of the Arts London, and my work discovered the common skills in business entrepreneurs and comedy improvisors, was awarded the highest grade across the graduating year, and I now speak on this topic and deliver workshops in industry. I’m also credited as one of the co-contributors to Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation book, and I design & develop property.
I have questions and I want answers
Of course you do. I’m happy to help.