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Getting to “Yes And”

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Getting to “Yes And”

The Art of Business Improv

Stanford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

You can apply the principles of improvisational comedy to business for fun and profit.

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable
  • For Beginners
  • Insider's Take


Improvisational comedy workshops have become a popular feature of corporate training, but Bob Kulhan, a comedian with the Second City improv troupe, a business consultant and a professor, says they generally don’t offer much value. Writing with Chuck Crisafulli, Kulhan argues that such programs would be more relevant if they adapted the skills of the stage to the distinct demands of commerce. He covers applying improv stagecraft tenets like “suspending judgment” and listening actively to other situations, such as when you’re guiding business strategy, stimulating colleagues’ creativity or developing a personal brand. Kulhan stays relentlessly on topic, adopting a casual, friendly tone and occasionally indulging in a joke. getAbstract finds that this refreshing perspective on familiar business issues offers laughs and lessons for executives, entrepreneurs and all those who need to think on their feet.  


Comedians and SEALs

Improvisational comedy workshops have become a fixture of corporate training. The principles of improvisation are valuable, but most presenters don’t adapt them to the business environment.

Improvisational games and exercises may be excellent training for comedic actors, but they may not be applicable to the challenges of a complex, fast-changing business. However, the principles underlying improvisation apply equally in a corporate conference table, hospital emergency room, professional sports match, military operation or comedy club.

The US Navy SEALs who raided Osama bin Laden’s compound had to improvise after one of their helicopters crashed inside the compound, derailing their plans. The SEALs’ quick, effective response demonstrates a central principle of improvisation: Improvisers don’t simply make things up as they go along. They adapt to changing circumstances by drawing on their knowledge and awareness of the situation. The SEALs called on their study of the bin Laden compound and their extensive tactical training. Such adaptability is essential in a mercurial business environment.


About the Authors

Second City actor Bob Kulhan is the president, CEO and founder of the Business Improv consultancy and an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and at Columbia Business School. Chuck Crisafulli is a veteran entertainment journalist and the author of Go to Hell: A Heated History of the Underworld and the co-author of Me and a Guy Named Elvis, with Jerry Schilling.

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