Stanford University

Millennials Just Want to Have Fun

Why the tenets of improv are key to thriving in today’s changing workplace.

Workplace slide

Only two decades ago, most executives wore business suits to work almost every day. Then, as dot-com companies flourished, powerful corporate giants like Bill Gates tossed the tie and showed up to work in a dress shirt, blazer, and dress slacks. Now, in 2017, billionaire titans of industry casually wear hooded sweatshirts, T-shirts, and occasionally (gasp!) flip-flops to the office.

Many of America’s future business leaders desire a casual work culture, in which fun features as a fundamental part of the nine-to-five.

The evolution of workplace attire exists in concert with the ascension of millennials, who insist on a new type of corporate environment, different than their parents’ workplaces. Many of America’s future business leaders desire a casual work culture, in which fun features as a fundamental part of the nine-to-five, and corporate America is responding! Glance through any of the many lineups for “the best places to work”: Facebook, Twitter, SAS, and Google, (to name a few) are all successful, powerful, multibillion-dollar organizations, and they also each boast the reputation of being “fun” while thriving. The message: you can have fun and still be incredibly productive.

As work environments continue to evolve, one elementary truth holds constant: As long as there has been an aging workforce, there has been a need to find, engage, cultivate, and retain great, young talent. There has also been a struggle to bridge the communication gap between generations in meaningful ways—which can prove to be a significant hurdle.

This desire for connection is human, and it is especially compelling for the socially conscious millennials, who thirst for a diversity of perspectives. Driven by access to a global community, this eagerness for divergent viewpoints is influenced and enlightened by many circumstances: education, family and friends, habits and rituals, geographic location, access to a variety of media and mediums. Arguably, millennials now dictate how we communicate with each other like no other generation before theirs has. (Consider the tremendous power of social media, crowdsourcing, and the internet.) The corporate takeaway: leaders must embrace this change.

The possibility for a diversity of perspectives within each unique workplace—the likelihood that the people we work with will see things differently than we see things alone—is greater than ever before. Why? Employees are now more informed. Thanks to the digital revolution, they have access to much more information than prior generations. With access comes an increased likelihood that people will see things differently. We must factor this into how we do business and we must adopt new methodologies for collaboration lest diversity become a cacophony .

Here’s where improv comes in. Improv? Yes, improv. Improvisation is a communication-based art form that inherently connects people in the workforce because, when applied thoughtfully, the tenets of improv create a culture of acceptance that is relaxed and (dare I say) fun. When applied to business, the philosophy of this art form teaches us to value personal connection, thrive on diverse perspectives, and embrace changing communication methodologies—all of which are important to millennials.

Improvisation is a communication-based art form that inherently connects people in the workforce because, when applied thoughtfully, the tenets of improv create a culture of acceptance that is relaxed and (dare I say) fun.

The cornerstone of improvisation is a two-word phrase “Yes, and…”. The byproduct of effectively using this gem is an increased ability to be present in the moment, embrace others and the ideas that come our way, and postpone judgment. Connection, acceptance, an openness to unknown possibilities—all of these intangibles can increase the level of “fun” that anyone can have at work!

Bob Kulhan on the “Yes and” Principle:

The next generation of leaders increasingly focuses on finding a workplace wherein they feel recognized, valued, and appreciated for their talents and contributions, which in turn instills a feeling of belonging and importance. In fact, when it comes to the attraction of a corporate culture, many millennials place their paycheck at a lower rank than their happiness and sense of purpose. If we are exploring how millennials feel about their workplace, we quickly wander deep into the domain of emotions, and emotional intelligence (EQ).

Getting to

Getting to “Yes And” » unpacks a form of mental agility with powers far beyond the entertainment value of comedy troupes.

The dawn of a millennial workforce in partnership with the rapid rise of disruptive technologies can take us by surprise unless we plan for their coming. With emotional intelligence comes an awareness that good feelings can be more than an HR issue—specifically, it can determine who attracts top talent. Emotions combined with a keen ability to make decisions based on them can lead to the best people strategy, making this a bottom line issue too.

Since the skill set used to reach emotional intelligence overlaps with the skill set that improvisation naturally reinforces—awareness, presence, empathetic listening, open communication, postponement of judgment, collaboration, celebration of diverse perspectives—improvisation should be looked to as a powerful tool for actualizing EQ in the workplace. This is a true gem since “how to do it” is often the biggest sticking point with big ideas in big business.

A magnificent tool for championing interpersonal communication, engaging talent, developing relationships, and building strategy, I put improvisation at the core of reacting, adapting, and communicating. I invite you to do the same. Yes, you may soon be enjoying a bit of levity at work, connecting on a more human level, and embracing a variety of communication techniques. And, you will also be improving your company’s survival skills.

Are you ready? Come on… Just say, “Yes, and.”

 

Start reading Getting to “Yes And” »

Bob Kulhan (@Kulhan) is President, CEO, and Founder of Business Improv®, Adjunct Professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School, a performer and Co-Founder of the Baby Wants Candy improv group, and author of Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv.