In the broadest sense of the term, applied improvisation is when you apply improvisation to, well...to something else. It's when improv research, principles, and techniques are used to improve other fields.
Applied improvisation is a relatively new field. The Applied Improvisation Network began in 2002. They bring facilitators together for professional development and networking.
As applied improvisation becomes more popular, we're seeing more and more individuals, businesses, and organizations get in the game. It's good that the benefits of improv are spreading and that there are places people can go to share resources and best practices.
However, sometimes applied improvisation is viewed too narrowly. There's a lot of buzz about how improv can help corporations and businesses. And that makes sense. There's a lot of money in corporations and businesses. And improv fits the bill when we're talking about improving team morale and cultures of ideation. But, applied improvisation is so much more than corporate workshops.
At its core, improv is about agreeing and adding on to other people's ideas. It's about risk-taking and contributing. Improv helps improve team building, collaboration, and creativity. Obviously, these are skills that many professions need a lot more of.
It's an exciting time for applied improvisation. Researchers are currently studying how improv can improve mental health treatment, therapy, health care, education, social work, business, and even tech. We are finally starting to quantify improv's potential and apply that potential in evermore ways to evermore disciplines. That's very good.
Here's a quick look at 7 fields applied improvisation is transforming.
7 Fields Being Transformed by Applied Improvisation:
1. Mental Health
Improv is being applied to all kinds of mental health conditions.
Second City has a program called Improv for Anxiety. Their classes help people apply improv principles to manage their anxiety. A lot of improvisers are generally anxious people, but rules such as Yes And help them snap out of that anxious thinking.
Researchers are taking a look at how the judgment-free zone of an improv class can act as a supplemental treatment for anxiety. Improv helps us build spaces where mistakes are okay and risk-taking is encouraged. This gives people with anxiety some much-needed relief.
Psychiatrists are also researching how to use improv as a treatment for depression.
Research is now starting to reveal that improv's focus on the positive and on creativity may give people some much-needed relief from their depression.
Researchers have also done qualitative studies on improv's impact on people with dementia. This early work shows that improv can improve memory, communication, and the self-esteem of participants with early-stage dementia.
Improv allows people to spontaneously form new realities. When they follow the Yes And principles, they can be more present and engaged.
They don't have to remember anything to be able to riff with other people. They're not told that they're wrong. Mistakes are okay. This allows people with dementia to enjoy being in the moment instead of worrying about the past or the future.
Once again, due to improv's ability to create safe spaces, it's also helping people with autism. Studies show that improv helps them process emotions and socialize with others. There's even a special improv camp just for young people with autism.
Therapists are also starting to use improv in their practice to create open, nonjudgmental spaces for their patients. Improv training is helping therapists listen to their patients better and keep sessions moving forward thanks to the rule of agreement.
3. Health Care
Second City Works, Medical Improv, and the Alda Center are all at the forefront of applying improv to improve medical training and related fields. They focus on training science professionals to be prepared for the unpredictable and to better communicate their knowledge to patients.
Improv offers a model for doctors to improve communication with patients. A better bedside manner means better health outcomes, and more and more med schools are bringing improv into their training programs.
Improv, and applying improv principles in the classroom, helps teachers create more supportive and creative environments. When we focus on listening, positivity, and reducing judgment, students become more creative and engaged.
One study even found that improv helped students write more. It makes sense. Improv helps build skills like risk-taking, collaboration, and creativity. These skills help students get out of their heads and start getting creative.
5. Social Work
Improv's connection with social work goes all the way back to its origins with Neva Boyd and Viola Spolin. Their recreational games helped children with their social and intellectual development almost a century ago.
Improv still offers social workers a model for increasing trust and openness. Games, which were the foundation of what is now improv, help people navigate obstacles and communicate productively with others.
Many organizations, companies, and individuals offer applied improvisation workshops to a wide range of companies and corporations.
Improv can be a model to help employers and employees communicate better and build cultures of creativity and innovation.
Yes And can become a corporate value that helps businesses grow and develop while also increasing and maintaining morale.
Applied improvisation's reach goes all the way into the tech space. Scientists are currently using AI (applied improvisation) to develop and enhance AI (artificial intelligence).
Some AI researchers are focusing on the comedic aspects of improv, but I think there's more potential in the improv principles that build collaboration and creativity.
The Future of Applied Improvisation
Applied improvisation has a bright future. Dr. Charles Limb will soon release the first fMRI scans of theatrical improvisers. We're still in the early days of figuring out improv's effects on the brain. And as we learn more about improv's impact, we'll be better able to harness its potential.
Applied improvisation is at its best when it is grounded in research and science. It can be so much more than just playing some games. When we are more informed about the current research and start creating well-developed curricula with an eye toward measuring and reporting our findings, we are more likely to positively impact clients, patients, and students. When we spread best practices, we spread applied improvisation.
At its core, improv's principles are about being better humans. When we go along with someone's idea, we become better listeners. When we add our own ideas, we become more creative. And when we value everyone's contributions, we become better people.
It boils down to being human.
Improv helps us truly listen when people talk. It helps us have an open mind about others. Improv helps us become more humble. No one is more or less valuable than anyone else.
And when we are better human beings, we are better researchers, therapists, doctors, teachers, social workers, bosses, and even robots.
Now, that's something I can definitely say yes to.
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