Only when I laugh

By | July 12, 2022

I was hired by The Second City in August 1998. The letter above was issued for a visa application to visit Canada. Has it truly been a lifetime and a century since I learnt to improvise as a professional? I can only say that I must have embedded the skills and techniques so deeply in these 24 years that I am unable to distinguish when I do it and which techniques I put into practice, when and how (see Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1980).

I dug this out today because its July 2022, and I’m sitting here reading academic literature from research journals when I came across Crossan (1998) reference to The Second City as the baseline for the application of improv techniques to enhance the strategic renewal of organizations. And I looked at the document and its date, and thought to myself, o rly? Look ma, I have a citation for The Second City in 1998 as well ;p Here it is, for your delectation. Want my weekly payslip?

It was meagre, as the theatre tends to be, but the perks included two free tickets to the mainstage each week, if we happened to be in a city with a Second City theatre such as Chicago or Toronto. And I was, often enough, that I got into the habit of inviting friends to meet me at the bar of their local Second City theatre as my guest. I worked out of the Pittsburgh office for S.C. Communications aka Second City Communications, the corporate comedy arm of the venerable old ‘university of comedy’ whose alumni include Alan Alda, John Candy, Chris Farley, Mike Myers, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey, among many many other names you will recognize.

My own legacy was securing the enterprise-wide buy in for the professional redesign of The Second City website including the purchase of domain name email addresses for all executive employees. For this purpose, I flew to Toronto to meet Andrew Alexander and pitch to him the rationale for investing in proper buildout and coherent domain structure as a marketing strategy (remember, this was 1999). Merchandise sales went up 65% after the fact, if I rely on the data in my old resume rather than attempt to revive my fading memories. You see, when I’d arrived in 1998, there was only ONE email address for the entire Pittsburgh office – “scctradsho@aol.com” – *cringe* and I was the only one in the entire organization with the savvy and experience to recognize the horror of using AOL for corporate communications. I was The Second City’s first H1B visa holder from outside the North American continent – Toronto and Chicago had long established intra-theatre work permits but a Bangalore trained engineer in the heyday of Y2K fears? Oooo, irresistable for the SCC mindset particularly since I couldn’t code or program worth a dime ;p I could laugh though, even when it hurt.

“Yes, And” details the seven elements of improv and shows how it fosters skills in leaders and teams, including co-creating in ensembles, building ‘yes and’ cultures on the job, embracing failure to celebrate high performance, leading by listening and learning to follow, and innovating something from nothing. Source

I sit here now, in Helsinki, pondering how can I work this into my manuscripts if I’m to include the part played by improv techniques in facilitation training for creativity and innovation skills enhancement? This is the practitioner’s weakness when it comes to academic publication – been there/done that doesn’t cut it. I will have to build from scratch. Yes, and…?

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