Improv in Change
ATD Blog

Improv in Change: Practice Readies You for When Luck Strikes

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The adage “luck is when opportunity meets preparation” refers to the fact that many humble people have said that they owe their big break to “luck.” As if anyone could have achieved that same moment, if only the stars had aligned. 

Not true. 

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines luck as “the things that happen to a person because of chance: the accidental way things happen without being planned.” However, when people work very hard, prepare a great deal, or practice incessantly—so that when the moment comes and the agent or CEO is in the room, they perform perfectly—the luck that put the right person there pays off because they rock the house. 

In my new book, Go With It: Embrace the Unexpected to Drive Change, I talk about how preparation is a huge part of dealing with challenges. Every athlete knows that if they don’t put in the time to practice, sweat, fail, get up, start over, and try again, they’ll never reach the physical skills and endurance it takes to be great. Practice is an obvious and entirely expected part of their excellence. So why do we think we can be creative or innovative without doing the same? 

If you want to be more creative, you need to start engaging in creative behavior. Do small things every day, practice the art of creativity, and innovate in ways that seem commonplace. This gives your brain a chance to create new neural pathways, and gives your body and emotions the chance to engage in failure, challenge, and retry. You’ll soon find that you can do these tasks more easily and begin branching out even more. 


Remember, if you feel comfortable and totally in your zone of expertise, you are probably stagnating! 

Brainstorming is one way to challenge yourself to get outside your comfort zone. By turning brainstorming into a game, you and your team will have fun while also creating a very visual outcome. I like using the collaborative brainstorming activity to get ideas and plans into place quickly. Here’s how it works: 

  1. Choose topics or projects that need to be addressed. Create teams of three people, with at least two teams per subject. For example, your company needs to launch a product for a new target market.
  2. Carefully consider preparation and environment. You’ll need colored markers and notecards or sticky notes (use large ones for easy writing, nothing tiny), as well as lots of wall space, flipcharts, and of course, snacks! Consider: Is there enough space for the number of people you have invited? Will the sticky notes stay on the wall in the room or will you need to tack notecards to the wall? Do the markers work well? Is the room in a place where you can have a noisy session?
  3. Assign trios of people to the topics for the collaborative brainstorm. They each have a role: One person is the brainstormer who thinks and speaks. Another person is the scribe, who writes down everything the brainstormer says (one idea per sticky note). The third person is the organizer, who gathers the outcomes and posts them on the wall.
  4. Set a timer for three to five minutes. The brainstormers will come up with ideas around something specific (How do we create a new process to roll out the website?) or general (What can we do to reach our yearly goals?). As they say each idea, the scribes write it on a sticky note, which they hand to the organizers. Because there are at least two teams per topic, the organizers for each topic will work together to categorize the ideas as quickly as possible. As they grab ideas and collaborate, columns or areas of sticky notes with common ideas should start to come together. If you are brainstorming multiple topics, put each topic on a separate wall to avoid confusion.
  5. Have everyone do a quick, one-minute review of the wall so they know which ideas have already been written down.
  6. Now, rotate roles! Do two to three rounds so team members can experience each different role. Encourage new ideas and encourage crazy! Remind them that you want to see ridiculous ideas right beside the obvious ones.
  7. Work together to eliminate duplicate ideas and organize the wall to create clear categories of ideas for each topic.
  8. Once the brainstorming has ended, have the groups use flipcharts to strategize how to put the ideas into action. Allow at least 15-20 minutes for conversation and work.
  9. Have each team present their ideas to the group. This is an idea session, not an editing session! Keep everything and edit later. 

Want to learn more? Join me at ATD 2017 International Conference & Exposition for the session: Improvisational Innovation: Small Behaviors for Big Change.

About the Author


Karen Hough is the founder and CEO of ImprovEdge, which helps companies transform behavior through interactive training. With a presence in five cities, ImprovEdge’s client list includes ESPN, Coach, Nationwide Insurance, Legg Mason, Cardinal Health, Novo Nordisk, and Turner Broadcasting. Karen is also a number 1 Amazon bestselling author, contributor to the Huffington Post, and recipient of the Stevie Silver International Award for Most Innovative Company of the Year 2012, as well as the Athena PowerLink Award for Outstanding Woman-Owned Business. Her second, award-winning book, Be the Best Bad Presenter Ever: Break the Rules, Make Mistakes and Win Them Over, was published in 2014 by Berrett-Koehler. 

Karen’s first life was as a professional improviser and actor. She trained with Chicago’s legendary Second City, performed in more than 100 theatrical productions, and was featured on radio, TV, and film. She lived a second life as a successful executive in network engineering. Finally, she became an entrepreneur. Karen is a Certified Speaking Professional and has presented to audiences of thousands both in the United States and internationally. She is a graduate of Yale University and La Sorbonne, Paris IV. 

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