In improvisational theater (aka “improv”), actors create something on the spot -- whether it be a song, a character or, in some cases, an entire TV show or movie. Improvisers create entire scenarios and shows from audience suggestions or just a story spine. Nothing is predetermined.
What does improv have to do with policing? How about:
- Better communication skills – including effective listening
- Ability to think on your feet
- Ability to read people
- Ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes
- Staying cool and calm in a stressful situation
In this article, I’ll make the case for training officers to be good improvisers and I’ll give one example of how to use improv to power up scenario-based training. Next month, I’ll give more improv exercises for:
- Powering up scenario-based training and street tactics
- Powering up recruit and in-service classroom training
- Improving morale and performance back at the station
A big part of policing is improvising. While TV and movies are inundated with cop drama, real cops live in an unscripted world. Officers must be able to think on their feet and -- improvise.
So, why not train officers to be good improvisers? It won’t just help them on the street; it will also make them better co-workers, trainers and leaders.
Corporate America, driven by the bottom-line (performance, productivity, profit) is investing in improv. More and more companies are embracing improv as a way to achieve important business and organizational goals. Many top Fortune 500 companies are hiring improvisational theater experts to engage their work force in improv exercises.
Kat Koppett, who wrote Training to Imagine – Practical Improvisational Theatre Techniques to Enhance Creativity, Teamwork, Leadership and Learning, trains many top companies -- Microsoft, Dell, Sony, Price-Waterhouse. The Wall Street Journal is extolling how companies are tapping improv to teach workers new skills. (Link below.) Even major league baseball is in on the act -- using improv-based training to help rookies assimilate into the Big League. (Link below.)
These days, the most successful businesspeople are those who can forge strong relationships, react quickly to changing circumstances, and solve problems fast. Tose skills are the fundamentals of improve. As a result, a growing number of companies are realizing that they need to know how to improvise better. The same goes for successful policing.
Whole-brained training, policing and leading.
By its nature, improvisation taps into the whole brain. In a lot of police work and training, people operate from their left brains -- where they can analyze, judge, and act methodically. There are good reasons for this and cops who don't analyze and discriminate may not have long careers.
But, we're built with a two-sided brain for a reason. Why not bring the right side of the brain -- which controls flexibility, innovation, creativity and adaptability – to every call, every training moment and every leadership opportunity?
Abraham Maslow, a well-known psychologist for his theory on human motivation and our hierarchy of needs, said,
“When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
Improvisation can open the brain up to other tools. One of the risks in specializing is it can reduce your repertoire. Just as an example, specializing in defensive tactics may have an officer responding to a threat with a particular blow, then -- as the challenge morphs -- a harder blow, then a harder blow to the head. This may be excellent, tactical specialization but law enforcement is nothing if it isn’t diverse.
I learned the power of improv the first day I was on my own student-teaching a 5th grade special education class. As I entered the room most of the kids were out of their seats, shouting, and trying to be heard above each other. This wasn’t in the manual (left brain data retrieval), so I went with my gut. I walked silently to the center of the room, and began whispering. The kids all stopped and strained to hear what I was saying.