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Lean learning using improv (post 2 of 2)

This is a two part guest post by Simon Scott, who talks about the fascinating academic research he’s done on lean learning– see full bio at the end. 

Continued on from Part 1/2

How on earth do I experience this nebulous concept #1/2?

Firstly, by adopting the learning approach highlighted by the research, common to both entrepreneurs and improvisors:


Growth mindset

Carol Dweck’s growth mindset has been highlighted by Guy Kawasaki.  Mindset refers to people’s fundamental perspective on ability and whether it can be developed:

Fixed mindset attitude:

• The ‘experts’ who already know the answers
• Can perform at a high level
• They believe they cannot learn new skills, as ‘that’s just the way I am’
• Focus on results, perfectionists, so failure is a disaster and often attacks their self-worth
• Often rigid in their approaches

Growth mindset attitude:

• The ‘enthusiasts’ who develop understanding
• Can perform at a high level
• They believe they can develop existing and new skills, and are willing to try
• Focus on effort, so failure is not a disaster and often see learning in success and failure
• Often flexible in their approaches

Dweck found that both approaches can be consciously chosen and developed.

Learning by doing

“The preferred method of learning is to be shown how to do things and then to practice them” (Best and worst learning methods of employees, CIPD, 2006)

When a child wants to learn to ride a bike, does a parent:

• Buy the kid the highest reviewed ‘Learn to ride a bike’ book on Amazon
• Show the kid a TED video named ‘Accelerated learning for bike riding’
• Send the kid to lectures on bike riding


The parent borrows or buys a cheap bike, teaches the kid the fundamental theories of operating the bike, fits stabiliser wheels or supports the bike manually to minimise the likelihood and consequences of failure within the learning period, enabling ‘learning by doing’.  And a child can learn this highly complex activity, that’s amazing!

Yet when adults decide to learn something they often chase qualifications and certificates first, with experience being a distant second…mmm…


What is the definition of ‘courage’?

If you said ‘being brave’ like a lot of people do, that doesn’t make sense, because you are trying to describe courage using a word that has the same meaning.

Try thinking of courage as ‘acting in spite of fear’.  Very relevant to improvisors, and entrepreneurs, as if you say to yourself ‘I will do that entrepreneurship thing when I stop being scared of it’, well don’t expect to make progress anytime soon.

Society proposes so many concepts of how to banish fear, yet I recommend working with fear still present, and working to make it a manageable level for yourself.  If improvisors felt no fear when they performed they would be bored, the fear is actually part of the value.

Success & Failure

People want success but often achieve failure as part of the process, or end up labelling something a total failure.  It is possible to gather valuable skills & experience through both success & failure, so work with failure rather than treating it as the bogeyman to be avoided at all costs.

Academics even have a fancy title for this: Human Capital Theory, where experience of past failures develop your knowledge, experience and skills ‘capital’.

Learning through fun

Sounds a bit hippy right?  True, though Randy Pausch put it well in his Last Lecture: ‘The ultimate way for people to learn is via a head-fake: people having fun whilst learning something hard.’

Reframing things as a game can turn intimidating scenarios with the likelihood of failure into potentially magical moments for those willing to step into on to the stage, and try.

How on earth do I experience this nebulous concept #2/2?

Secondly, by trying.

Try an improv comedy class.

An awesome opportunity to learn how to ‘learn as you go’, working hard at the same time as having fun, and embracing the potential of failing fabulously in front of an audience!  Good training for lean learning don’t you think?

Try lean entrepreneurship.

Grasp the lean startup concepts and apply them to test ideas as fast as possible with the lowest consequences of failure, learning as you go.

With an approach like this, what do you have to lose?

I have questions and I want answers

Of course you do.  I’m happy to help.

Ask any questions in comments below, message me direct @simonscott or if you’d like to be first to hear news of public workshops submit your email here.

Good luck!

About Simon:
4I’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.

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