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Why the business world needs improv

improvWhen I started teaching at UNC Kenan-Flagler in 2000, saying I taught improv inevitably led to an extensive conversation. I’d mention some improv principles and techniques and explain how they apply just as much off stage as on it. It was a new concept to most folks, but they seemed to like it.

Back then, the associate dean of the MBA Program – Jim Dean, who went on to serve as dean of the School – was looking for innovative classes. Improv fit the bill, so he took a chance and green-lit my Applied Improv course. Other schools had experimented with offering improv workshops and seminars to business students, but UNC Kenan-Flagler was, to my knowledge, the first business school in the world to offer a full-term, for-credit improv course.

When Jim asked if I thought I could handle MBA students, I told him I already had experience teaching improv programs in corporate settings. I added that I had also worked with middle schoolers – how much more difficult could MBAs be? Fifty students showed up for 25 seats in my first Applied Improv class, and so began something of a tradition.

These days, the idea of teaching improvisational theater in business school is not so odd, and I’m proud to be on the cutting edge of applied improvisation at UNC Kenan-Flagler. I now teach year round, delivering my course to students in the Undergraduate Business, Master of Accounting and MBA programs. I also consult in corporate, organizational and other academic settings.

Why does it work? Improv is about taking risks, as well and understanding that fear doesn’t necessarily correlate to danger. It improves the ability to think on your feet and helps you be more creative and a better communicator.

Ultimately, improv is all about getting out of your head and into the moment. Whether on stage or in the board room, good improvisational skills help you avoid getting caught up in self-judging neuroses or thrown off when things don’t go as planned.

By Greg Hohn, assistant clinical professor of management and corporate communication