Three types of improvisation skills

  1. Imitative improvisation. A person will observe what more-experienced people are doing and copy their responses with minimal variation. This is an effective starting point for people with limited experience.
  2. Reactive improvisation: Using inputs from the environment and other people to develop your own reaction to an unexpected situation, without relying on other's actions. It is generally developed after you have already mastered imitative improvisation.
  3. Generative improvisation. It is about proactively trying new things to anticipate and catalyse what could happen (rather than react).
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Skilled improvisers are necessary

When you deal with a crisis, you need managers and employees that can think on their feet and act fast without first looking for an instruction manual. It means that you need skilled improvisers.

Capable improvisers will steer their companies through crises, paradigm shifts, technological breakthroughs and environmental disasters. But employee training programs seldom focus on becoming better improvisers, and hiring teams don't often screen for improvisation skills.

A key factor in determining how improvisation skills develop is the extent to which an individual was competitively vs collaboratively oriented.

  • Competitive individuals generally develop reactive improvisation faster since they grab every opportunity for themselves. This approach tends to alienate others and impede the longer-term development of generative improvisation skills.
  • Collaborative individuals take longer to develop reactive improvisation because they first watch how others react to new environmental cues. They gain social connectedness and mutual trust to improvise generatively.
  • Build awareness of how different types of improvisation skills are developed. Educate yourself and your team on the kinds of improvisation skills. Newcomers could be paired with more experienced improvisers.
  • Balance collaboration and competition. Managers need to push employees to develop collaborative skills without impeding the competitive instincts of newcomers.
  • Nurture social structures. Managers should create a psychologically safe environment of rich social interactions that engenders trust and collaboration - especially when working remotely.

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By 2030, up to 30 to 40 percent of all workers in developed countries may need to move into new occupations or upgrade their skill sets. Skilled workers in short supply will become even scarcer. Any company that doesn't join the early adopters and doesn't address its underlying talent needs may fall short of reaching its goals.

Psychologist Kurt Lewin developed his framework in the 1930s, and it provided the foundation of many of the approaches that followed afterwards

  • Autocratic leaders make decisions without consulting their team members, even if their input would be useful.
  • Democratic leaders make the final decisions, but they include team members in the decision-making process.
  • Laissez-faire leaders give their team members a lot of freedom in how they do their work. They provide support with resources and advice if needed, but otherwise they don't get involved.

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