You and five people step on the stage with nothing, trusting everyone in the room to listen and give what they can to the performance. Together, you are there to write, stage and perform a one act play that has never been done and will never be seen again. You shade your eyes from the stage lights so you can see the audience, you try to make eye contact. You ask for a suggestion from the audience, the fulcrum that will launch your show. You turn to your troupe members with a smile, making eye contact with all of them and, together, you begin…
In longform improvisation, the process is the product – this show we are making is what the audience pays to see. I have known writers in the past that roll their eyes at improvisation. “Why would I perform my first draft?” Improvisation isn’t YOUR first draft. It is a work we make together, it is OUR show. It is built from the collection of thoughts, emotions and ideas in the room at that hour. It is a perfect representation of that moment in time and space, ephemeral and magic.
Collaboration, to me, is individual thoughts and ideas brought together to make a cohesive whole. There is give and take of leadership, adaptation to situations as they come up, listening for patterns, no holding back. I don’t think it is everyone nodding and smiling. There is a difference between group think and what improvisors call group mind. There is conflict around ideas, but there is always respect and openness. Tina Fey articulates this in an interview with Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.
Collaboration looks like everyone in the room playing at the top of their game, listening deeply to information and ideas and putting forth a cohesive piece. To me, great collaboration looks a lot like a great improv show.
This post was originally written for Entrepreneurship at ASU.