This blog has now been moved and amalgamated to the Leadership Chronicles. There will be an ongoing commitment to Business Improvisation.

Thanx for reading,


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ASCI is a proud member of the NeuroLeadership Institute.  We have found the research and content very valuable to our practice and ultimately our clients.  The 2009 NeuroLeadership Summit will take place in Los Angeles at the UCLA campus in Westwood October 27th through October 29th.  It should be another outstanding summit.

Areas of focus will include:

  • The physiology of presence, trust, integrity and other leadership competencies
  • Why change is so hard at an individual and systemic level, and how to make it easier
  • The neuroscience of mindfulness
  • Why it’s often so hard to think clearly and how to make better decisions
  • The anatomy of an ’aha!’ and how to have more of them
  • Driving performance through understanding the goals of the brain
  • How we know ourselves and others
  • The neuroscience of social networks, and why the social world is so important
  • Learning about the brain in K-12 education
  • Teaching leaders and managers about the brain

Speakers will include:

  • Daniel Siegel – author of best seller ‘The Developing Mind’, co-director of UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center
  • Warren Bennis – one of the greats of leadership development
  • Werner Erhard – founding father of transformational leadership
  • Jonah Lehrer – neuroscientist and author of recent bestseller ‘How We Decide
  • Marco Iacoboni – leading mirror neuron researcher
  • Naomi Eisenberger – leading social neuroscience researcher
  • Yi-Yuan Tang – leading attention researcher
  • Matthew Lieberman – founding father of social neuroscience
  • Evian Gordon – leading brain researcher, building world’s largest database of brain research
  • John Joseph – expert on teaching kids about the brain
  • Dr Al Ringleb – Director, CIMBA Business School, Italy, co-founder, NeuroLeadership Institute
  • David Rock – author and global leadership consultant, co-founder, NeuroLeadership Institute

The theme this year is ‘toward integration’, and the sessions will be even more integrative than the highly acclaimed summits in 08. The topics this year also build on the previous year’s insights, to provide an ongoing educational forum for senior change-agents from around the globe.

This is an event for people who are already making an impact in the world, and don’t find that normal conferences provide new insights or the right level of networking. Many participants are involved in a broad range of wide scale and global change initiatives, inside or outside large organizations.

Cam and I are planning to be there, let us know if you’re planning on attending.

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There are several critical sales skills that that can increase your success with your clients that go beyond the traditional mass produced ‘one size fits all’ sales training. Skills associated with account strategy, competitive counter tactics, advanced questioning models to reveal value, the neuroscience of change and my personal favorite; status.

Status awareness and manipulation is one of those allusive attributes that people often think a great sales person is ‘born with’.  Like most value sales skills, some come to them naturally and perform them in an unconsciously competent state of mind. Until I attended an improvisation workshop many years ago with Keith Johnstone I had not experienced status as a learnable skill. Further research led us to incorporate status as a major component in our Collaboration & Influence Model that we include in our workshops. Status awareness and manipulation, your own and how you use it to affect a situation, is a key ingredient in sales and leadership.

Defining status relative to interpersonal or group situations can be a challenge. Our first thought is title, power or social standing, which is only the tip of the behavioral iceberg.  In theatre status refers to the relative importance of the characters to each other or objects in a situation. Most comedy is based on the movement of status; a pompous man walks across the street, head held high, owning the world in his mind and he trips and falls into a puddle. We laugh because his status went from high to low, he got his. A low status character, a frail old lady falls into the same puddle and we feel sorry for her. Her status didn’t change. A street person, dirty and dressed poorly can strut around like he owns the place, his status very high. A multi millionaire can be shy and unassuming with a low status. Status is a combination of body language, tone of voice, intent, assumptions, observation and reaction. Our status is effected (raised or lowered) by other people, places or things.

“Researchers announced today that people who read articles on the internet are 87% more likely to be happy and successful than their competitors.” I just increased your status.

We are constantly keeping track of our status relative to others. Status is also about pecking order, real or imagined. We hold a metal representation of our status in our minds during interactions and it affects our metal processes. In fact research shows that we use the same part of our brain for processing numbers. When we feel our status has been increased our bodies release dopamine (associated with pleasure). One study showed that an increase in status was similar to a financial windfall and that being left out of an activity, a status reduction, is perceived by the brain using the same circuitry as pain.

Status in the business world is extremely important and many are consciously unaware of its affects and manipulations. Don’t be fooled, status does not equal power. As with all behavioral observation and interaction status is a self calculated attribute and may be out of whack with reality.  Think of the self important person who thinks they run the company, clearly high status but perhaps not in charge or even an influencer. Or, the CEO who is quite and humble yet walks into the room and everyone pays attention and notices her, real power, low status.

We manipulate our status and those around us constantly. Lets take a typical sales call; the buyer, let say the CIO, is talking to you about the value and ROI of the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning Software) you are selling. It’s a multi-million sale and the success is not all based on features and functions. During the conversation the CIO will feel more comfortable if your status is slightly below his. When he talks you listen intently, think about what he says, give it weight, and even if you don’t agree with a comment or concern you accept it. When it is your turn to respond, increase your status, sit taller in the chair, take more space. It is important to be perceived as the ‘trusted expert’ so your answer should be to the point, delivered with confidence. If you portray low status while answering with the correct information it still comes off as un-inspiring. With your next question ask the CIO his opinion of something important to the situation or even personal, this act increases his status. If you keep your status very close to his he will feel comfortable, raise it when you need to be the trusted advisor and lower it again. Amongst friends we decrease each others status a sign of familiarity, a playful comment about some one’s inability to do something. Manipulating the CIO’s status in this manner, if appropriate, and getting a chuckle conveys a level of trust you can build on. You may have seen facilitators do this; a quick comment on their inability to do something gets a laugh. The audience likes the comments and in turn does not see the facilitator as a threat. If the facilitator is aware of status she can keep her status high, lots of confidence, control the room, etc. but every once and awhile have a laugh at her expense to keep her status mobile. It is also a good facilitation strategy to pick the one or two high status individuals in the audience and play with status in order to keep them in line when required.

All of our social interaction is driven by instincts left over from a time when survival depended on our awareness and reaction to a situation. As our first level of processing we evaluate whether the situation is a threat and we avoid it, or if we should approach and hopefully there is an award. Awareness of how our status affects others in this context is critical to meeting your objective on a sales call, in a boardroom or any leadership situation. If you control and manipulate your status you can avoid being perceived as a threat and still be a leader.

Homework; watch a TV sitcom (sorry) with the sound muted and see where the punch lines are by the change in status between characters.

Consider adding status awareness as part of your next sales call. Think about how you are perceived by the client and watch for status variations during the meeting. Try shifting your higher or lower status than a friend during a conversation for practice.

If your target relationship with a client is as a trusted advisor and if your purpose is to obtain an insider position then observing and manipulating status is a critical success factor.

Below are examples high and low status behaviors and how to manipulate them.

High-status behaviors

  • When walking, assuming that other people will get out of your path.
  • Making eye contact while speaking.
  • Not checking the other person’s eyes for a reaction to what you said.
  • Having no visible reaction to what the other person said.
  • Speaking in complete sentences.
  • Interrupting before you know what you are going to say.
  • Spreading out your body to full comfort. Taking up a lot of space with your body.
  • Looking at the other person with your eyes somewhat down (head tilted back a bit to make this work), creating the feeling that you are a parent talking to a child.
  • Talking matter-of-factly about things that the other person finds displeasing or offensive.
  • Letting your body be vulnerable, exposing your neck and torso to the other person.
  • Moving comfortably and gracefully.
  • Keeping your hands away from your face.
  • Speaking authoritatively, with certainty.
  • Making decisions for a group; taking responsibility.
  • Giving or withholding permission.
  • Evaluating other people’s work.
  • Speaking cryptically, not adjusting your speech to be easily understood by the other person (except that mumbling does not count).
  • Being surrounded by an entourage, especially of people who are physically smaller than you.
  • A “high-status specialist” conveys in every word and gesture, “Don’t come near me, I bite.”

Low-status behaviors

  • When walking, moving out of other people’s path.
  • Looking away from the other person’s eyes.
  • Briefly checking the other person’s eyes to see if they reacted positively to what you said.
  • Speaking in halting, incomplete sentences. Trailing off, editing your sentences as you go.
  • Sitting or standing uncomfortably in order to adjust to the other person and give them space. Pulling inward to give the other person more room. If you’re tall, you might need to scrunch down a bit to indicate that you’re not going to use your height against the other person.
  • Looking up toward the other person (head tilted forward a bit to make this work), creating the feeling that you are a child talking to a parent.
  • Dancing around your words (beating around the bush) when talking about something that will displease the other person.
  • Shouting as an attempt to intimidate the other person. This is low status because it suggests that you expect resistance.
  • Crouching your body as if to ward off a blow; protecting your face, neck, and torso.
  • Moving awkwardly or jerkily, with unnecessary movements.
  • Touching your face or head.
  • Avoiding making decisions for the group; avoiding responsibility.
  • Needing permission before you can act.
  • Adjusting the way you say something to help the other person understand; meeting the other person on their (cognitive) ground; explaining yourself.
  • A “low-status specialist” conveys in every word and gesture, “Please don’t bite me, I’m not worth the trouble.”

Raising another person’s status

To raise another person’s status is to establish them as high in the pecking order in your group (possibly just the two of you).

  • Ask their permission to do something.
  • Ask their opinion about something.
  • Ask them for advice or help.

· Express gratitude for something they did.

  • Apologize to them for something you did.
  • Agree that they are right and you were wrong.
  • Defer to their judgement without requiring proof.
  • Address them with a fancy title or honorific (even “Mr.” or “Sir” works very well).
  • Downplay your own achievement or attribute in comparison to theirs. “Your wedding cake is so much whiter than mine.”
  • Do something incompetent in front of them and then apologize for it or act sheepish about it.
  • Mention a failure or shortcoming of your own. “I was supposed to go to an audition today, but I was late. They said I was wrong for the part anyway.”
  • Compliment them in a way that suggests appreciation, not judgement. “Wow, what a beautiful cat you have!”
  • Obey them unquestioningly.
  • Back down in a conflict.
  • Move out of their way, bow to them, lower yourself before them.
  • Tip your hat to them.
  • Lose to them at something competitive, like a game (or any comparison).
  • Wait for them.
  • Serve them; do manual labor for them.

Lowering another person’s status

To lower another person’s status is to attack or discredit their right to be high in the pecking order. Another word for “lowering someone’s status” is “humiliating them.”

  • Criticize something they did.
  • Contradict them. Tell them they are wrong. Prove it with facts and logic.
  • Correct them.
  • Insult them.
  • Give them unsolicited advice.
  • Approve or disapprove of something they did or some attribute of theirs. “Your cat has both nose and ear points. That is acceptable.” Anything that sets you up as the judge lowers their status, even “Nice work on the Milligan account, Joe.”
  • Shout at them.
  • Tell them what to do.
  • Ignore what they said and talk about something else, especially when they’ve said something that requires an answer. E.g. “Have you seen my socks?” “The train leaves in five minutes.”
  • One-up them. E.g. have a worse problem than the one they described, have a greater past achievement than theirs, have met a more famous celebrity, earn more money, do better than them at something they’re good at, etc.
  • Win: beat them at something competitive, like a game (or any comparison).
  • Announce something good about yourself or something you did. “I went to an audition today, and I got the part!”
  • Disregard their opinion. E.g. “You’d better not smoke while pumping gas, it’s a fire hazard.” Flick, light, puff, puff, pump, pump.
  • Talk sarcastically to them.
  • Make them wait for you.
  • When they’ve fallen behind you, don’t wait for them to catch up, just push on and get further out of sync.
  • Disobey them.
  • Violate their space.
  • Beat them up. Beating them up in front of other people, especially their wife, girlfriend, and/or children, is particularly status-lowering.
  • In a conflict, make them back down.
  • Taunt them. Tease them.

The basic status-lowering act

Laugh at them. (Not with them.)

The basic status-raising act

Be laughed at by them.

Second to that is laughing with them at someone else.

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In the past year I’ve been doing a lot of reading about NeuroLeadership. It’s a very interesting field of the key is your brianmanagement study that combines how the brain works or neuroscience with the practices of leading change in people or organizations. The material is fascinating and I find that it supports, through research and science, many of the recommendations and counsel we offer clients about sustaining change.


We often reference the research paper “Executive coaching as a transfer of training tool” (Olivero, Bane, & Kopelman, 1997) that reveals a 22.4% return on investment (ROI) on management or leadership training. However, if the subjects undergo weekly one-on-one coaching sessions based on the training content that ROI percentage jumps to 88.0%. So although we knew that individual coaching after the workshops had a huge positive effect on the participant and that reinforcing the message in different mediums facilitated corporate culture change, NeuroLeadership is explaining why and how. The ‘why’ is the way our brains work, how we generate insight, how we turn new ideas into new habits and why change is so hard to achieve in one person or an organization. The “how” is attention and focus on those key learning objectives that creates new patterns in the brain, in effect moving the new idea from short term to long term memory through repetition.


So ‘rinse and repeat’ is not only a 50’s clever marketing ploy created to get consumers to use more shampoo, its also the key to change. This could be why two thirds of change initiatives fail, a clear message must be sent repeatedly. Anyone who plays an instrument or is in a professional that practices performance understands the value of focused attention.  From research being published it is becoming clear that focusing on a task or concept also creates physical and chemical changes in the brain. If change is pain then focus is power.


Connecting the dots back to Business Improvisation becomes easy…  



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Business has been cooking at ASCI over the last 6 months or so: our Situational Leadership Workshop is becoming more and more popular. I think corporations are beginning to see that best answer to any business problem or dilemma is “it depends”. It depends on the situation, on who you are, on who you’re dealing with and on a million other possibilities. So how do you pass along wisdom, how you we learn, why do I read all those business books?

It depends, depends

The reason I’m a big fan of Situational Leadership and Business Improvisation is that both are, at their best, processes not answers. Your coaching challenge with a unmotivated employee is almost certainly unique. You can learn how other people motivated their tough employees but the key is really you. And no one has written a book about how YOU can solve a leadership issue. Its not the same as how to fix a leaky tap, its not a piece of code, a zero or a one, its people and everyone is different.  Now before you think I’m advocating just getting to know everyone and be their friend before you can lead, stop. What I’m saying is that you need know yourself. OR “know thyself” as Socrates said.

Understanding your style preferences, strengths and weaknesses and how they may hinder or assist reaching the objective is critical to leadership performance. How to adapt your style to these situations once aware is execution success. That is why corporations are starting to embrace Situational Leadership and Business Improvisation as a process.
My favorite example is the coach with a very high need for control, fast decision maker and a tendency to express his ideas trying to coach a quite, introverted, high external awareness employee.  Basically the coach never stops talking and walks away thinking everything is great, or at least not understanding why things don’t change. The coachee walks away feeling he hasn’t been heard and that the last hour was a waste of time. Leadership is follower driven. Its the coach’s responsibility to adapt his style to the coachee.

I’m working on a presetnation and paper for The Banff Leadership Centre entitled “Situational Leadership and the Reality of Execution Style” which I’ll post here when its done. I enjoy the comments from everyone, pass along an example that you have witnessed where the coach failed to adapt his or her style and I’ll include it in the paper.

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ChangeThis was built in the summer of 2004 by Amit Gupta, Catherine Hickey, Noah Weiss, Phoebe Espiritu and Michelle Sriwongtong. You can read their bios in this blog entry. The original idea behind ChangeThis came from Seth Godin. You can read about him on his website.

In the summer of 2005, ChangeThis was turned over to 800-CEO-READ. In addition to selling business books, they keep ChangeThis up and running with their love and tender care.

I’ve been enjoying Manifestos on ChangeThis for several years, its been a great source of leading edge business thinking that I’ve found useful in my workshops and writing. Some of the more memorable Manifestos include The Bootstrapper’s Bible and Pushing Past the Dip: How to Become the Best in the World by Seth Godin, This I Believe! – Tom’s 60 TIBs by Tom Peters, The Long Tail by Chris Anderson and my all time favorite The Talent Myth by Malcolm Gladwell.

Yesterday my Manifesto Business Improvisation: The Diving Catch of the Corporate World was published on ChangeThis. Its not in the same league as the authors I mentioned above but I am proud that the editors and readers felt it is worthy of publishing. Take a minute to give it a read, pass it along and please let me know what you think.

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This post is from a white paper on how ASCI uses The GO Game to reinforce and test content delivered in its PVC Sales Training Program. The sales training itself is good stuff but when combined with the GO Game its a blast.

Pervasive Gaming and Experiential Learning


The client, a major Canadian financial institution, engaged Anderson Sabourin Consulting Inc. (ASCI) to conduct sales training. ASCI delivered a two day PVC Sales™ seminar that culminated with an experiential learning event. The GO Game was selected to deliver the sales training content using its unique wireless interactive technology.


The GO Game is an interactive wireless technology based urban adventure game where teams of 3 to 10 players complete missions throughout a private or public game zone. Each team is equipped with a handheld wireless device (Blackberry Curve or LG 9800), a digital camera, a map of the game zone and some items required to complete various missions. The handheld devices are connected to the internet so that players experience a rich user interface including hints, pictures, and videos. All missions are received and answered using the handheld devices. The GO Game was conceived as a team building game and has been active globally for over three years with close to 2000 games and over 20,000 participants.

GO Game missions focus in three main areas. Creativity; players are challenged to create short video clips and pictures with minimal guidance for creative missions. These missions are judged by their peers at the end of the game. Team work; missions are designed to embrace different learning styles within the team. Players work together to solve problems, and have to cooperate and collaborate to solve the mission and gain points. Finally, the GO Game challenges participants to be creative under pressure and improvise. Business people generally rely on the planning process to be successful; the GO Game creates the need for solutions in real time and because the game is played in a public forum, it increases pressure dramatically. All this equals a great opportunity for teambuilding and a perfect environment for learning and practicing skills that are utilized under pressure.Sales Wizard

ASCI integrated key knowledge points from its PVC Sales Training Program into GO Game missions. The teams competed for points by solving missions and to gain enough information to lead them to book the ultimate order utilizing skills and concepts from the sales training.

Instead of facing Ninjas and Super Heroes in the tradition GO Game actor based missions, participants were challenged by facilitators and senior executives. They were required to create and deliver value propositions, overcome obstacles and discover customer requirements using objection handling and questioning models. Understanding the models presented in the workshops and then use them in pressure situations helps ‘seal’ the learning in a positive but competitive practice atmosphere.

Location based missions and creative missions where also adapted to reflect PVC Sales Training material. The afternoon became a combination of team building, sales training and adventure game.

GO Game judging is always the most entertaining part of the event. Teams collectively watch their creative missions replayed with sound effects and commentary. The hand held devices are used to tally votes for the best performances.

The winning team is crowned based on mission points obtained during the GO Game and creative points obtained by their peers during the judging phase.


It has always been the goal of training programs to achieve a change in behaviour of the participants (Kirkpatrick). Testing the knowledge of the participants in practice experience that still resembles the reality they face when utilizing the material has always been a challenge. Using the GO Game’s competitive experience to deliver the content gives the user a practice environment and the facilitators to measure the effectiveness of the learning material. The participants also were able to feedback solutions that were new and so were rewarded for the creativity. The rest of the teams benefitted from these new insights through the judging process and the facilitated discussion.

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I came across this article from The Salt Lake Tribune that is so bizarre that I had to share it with you.

“In a lawsuit filed last month, former Prosper, Inc. salesman Chad Hudgens alleges his managers also allowed the supervisor to draw mustaches on employees’ faces, take away their chairs and beat on their desks with a wooden paddle “because it resulted in increased revenues for the company.””

“A supervisor at a motivational coaching business in Provo is accused of waterboarding an employee in front of his sales team to demonstrate that they should work as hard on sales as the employee had worked to breathe.motivation

Christopherson led the sales team to the top of a hill near the office and told Hudgens to lie down with his head downhill, the suit claims. Christopherson then told the rest of the team to hold Hudgens by the arms and legs.

Christopherson poured water from a gallon jug over Hudgens’ mouth and nostrils – like the interrogation strategy known as “waterboarding” – and told the team members to hold Hudgens down as he struggled, the suit alleges.

At the conclusion of his abusive demonstration, Christopherson told the team that he wanted them to work as hard on making sales as Chad had worked to breathe while he was being waterboarded,” the suit alleges. “

Amazing. Apparently senior management, including President Dave Ellis, had seen the mustaches and paddles and were fine with it all.

“Ellis said the exercise was a dramatization of a story in which a young man asks Socrates to become his teacher. Socrates responds by plunging the student’s head underwater and telling him he will learn once his desire for knowledge is as great as his desire to breathe.

“It’s voluntary, it’s humorous, it’s team and camaraderie-building,” Ellis said.”

I have managed and sold in some very high pressure environments, achieve your numbers or lose your job, but I have to admit that I’ve never been physically tortured. Although I have sat through PowerPoint presentations and compensation reviews that I’m convinced constituted psychological torture.

Other than the obvious, torture is not a motivator and don’t hire psychopaths, there is a significant lesson we can learn from this display of corporate culture out of control. As a leader, you are responsible for culture. Why would the other sales people put up with these acts? Because even if management didn’t know about these events it was assumed they did, it is part of the corporate culture they’ve created. Culture is what’s going on when you’re not looking. I doubt that Prosper Inc founders Ethan Willis and Randy Garn designed or condoned these actions, but they are responsible.

The other thing that bothers me is that Prosper is in the business of coaching and motivation, they should know better. Ernst & Young named them Utah Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005. Is the message of corporate ethics not getting through? We do expect our leaders to practice what they preach.

“Physician heal thyself” – or – start bidding on the motivational training contracts in Iraq for the US Government.

Your thoughts?

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“It depends” is a very common and often correct answer to most business questions. The outcome of a complex situation really does “depend” on a large number of uncontrollable and unknown variables. Sales professionals try to reduce these unknowns as best they can by doing research and asking questions. They strive to understand the competitive and political landscapes as well as train on the features and functions of the solution. Sales professionals strive to analyze the decisions makers and to ensure the value proposition meets the client’s requirements. Other variables, such as the emotional states of those decision makers, can greatly affect the outcome of the sales process.

It really does depend.juggle

It is the job as sales professionals, managers, and coaches to have a strategy in order to manage these unforeseen and uncontrollable variables and increase the likelihood of success. Business Improvisation is a strategy to deal with the unknown in a sales cycle.

Sound sales process education is a given for a successful sales team. The ability to be creative under pressure and improvise is both a critical skill and a strategy to obtain a great level of success. Those who master Business Improvisation as a comprehensive skill can overcome obstacles and still reach their objective. Those who do not master the ability to be flexible face being let down and are rarely successful in larger more complex sales situations.

Sales Improvisation in Action:

A proposal has been prepared for a client and there is a meeting today to review the solution and costs with the executive team. The content of the proposal is clear and the features and functions are supported by research. Experience tells us that no matter how hard we try to control the situation something unexpected will happen. It could be something small; spilled coffee on your shirt or a burnt bulb on the projector. Any small issue can quickly become a big issue if it is allowed to blur the focus. A large unexpected event could be problematic as well; the decision maker not showing or the opening statement from the client that they’ve decided to go with an unknown competitor. Not only are there new obstacles to overcome, fear and biological stress, such as fight or flight, influence reactions. The objective remains the same but the plan is no longer viable, it is time to improvise.

Improvisation is the process of accessing and applying creativity to a situation in real time. It is the ability to converge composition, creativity and execution to achieve success. Creativity can be defined as the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, and relationships. In doing so, creativity brings forth original methods and interpretations. Improvisation is not ‘winging it”, in fact in order to access creativity it is important not to be distracted by the content. If you are busy remembering features and functions or obsessed about some other event your mind is not free to access creativity and improvise. Preparation is key factor for successful Business Improvisation.

Recent research conducted by Keith Hmieleski and Andrew Corbett reveals that entrepreneurs use improvisation as a process when resources, like time, are limited and challenges are high. Their research showed that improvisation, in the right situations, is a highly successful strategy. Frank Ruffs’ research on organizational improvisation, published in Future magazine in 2004, states that improvisation is an important strategy for corporations to deal with “wild card” or unforeseen crises and unpredicted change. Improvisation, as a strategy for dealing with the unknown, is also utilized by EMS workers, military personnel and firefighters. We also witness the art of improvisation in theatre and music, particularly jazz.

In sales terms, think of improvisation as being intentionally flexible on how to reach a goal. Knowing what your current state is and where you want to be is important, but which path you take will depend on the circumstances of the moment. This is much harder than it sounds because it relies on giving up the attempt to control.

Control and Awarenessattention

When unanticipated events occur it is common to react by trying to control the future. The more control is sought after the harder it is to achieve. In fact research shows that ‘trying harder’ usually creates negative results. The increased pressure evokes fear and distraction thus focus is lost. Sales training programs often impart messages like “control the customer” or “control the conversation”. The control strategy simply does not work; people do not react well to being controlled and it has already established that the sales cycle is full of uncontrollable events. Accepting that you cannot control everything is not only liberating but it also gives you access to increased awareness and creativity.

Awareness is the combination of listening and observing and is an important step in the process of improvisation. It can be expressed in a 2X2 matrix from broad to narrow and internal to external. Awareness provides all the raw material to work with. It can give clues to behaviour and style that help shape our creative output. Generally, we comprehend at a rate of 350 to 500 words per minute during a conversation; but we speak at 150 to 200 words per minute. The 50% time differential is typically used to pass judgment and anticipate a response. The more affectively we can use that time increases our awareness and can help formulate more creative possibilities.

Learned or Innate?

Improvisation is a skill that is taught to actors and musicians. That learning process can be translated so that salespeople can add improvisation to their cache of tools. Conventional business traditions afford little tolerance for failure or even practice. Although any successful leader will relay platitudes that learning comes from failure. Business Improvisation training affords the circumstances to practice and fail in a safe environment. Recent research conducted by Randy Sabourin and Dr Robin Pratt, entitled Attentional and Interpersonal Characteristics of Improvisation Professionals vs. Business Executives, measured the differences between successful sales executives and professional improvisers. The measurements focused on attention and distraction preferences, styles, and interpersonal communication skills. It allows individuals to compare their styles and behavioural attributes to improvisers. That personal information combined with the proven techniques for teaching improvisation gathered from theatre and jazz traditions can help individuals become fluent in the ways of Business Improvisation.


Success in business often comes down to solving problems without the benefit of time, resources or all the information. Business Improvisation is a skill that can be learned and a strategy for sales professionals and executive teams to implement. This preparation can ensure a competitive advantage when performance under pressure is a critical factor for success.


Attentional and Interpersonal Characteristics of Improvisation Professionals vs. Business Executives [What Executives can learn from Improvisation Professionals], Randy Sabourin, with Robin W. Pratt, Ph.D

Wild Cards, Weak Signals and Organizational Improvisation by Franks Ruff

Proclivity for Improvisation as a Predictor of Entrepreneurial Intentions by Keith Hmieleski and Andrew Corbett

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