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Jay Reid: Fostering innovation from the improv stage

While some people may be surprised to hear an improv actor talking about municipal innovation, to Jay Reid it makes perfect sense.

Reid helps teams – including municipal ones – to become more productive and happy by applying improv tools in the workplace. He was serving as emcee for the Municipal Innovators Community 2019 conference when he sat down with Municipal World CEO Susan Gardner.

Together the two discussed how improv skills can sharpen the skills of people inside the local government sector.

“What’s really important about improv is understanding it is helping us improvise more effectively,” Reid said. “Whether we like it or not, as human beings, we all have to improvise. There are many things that are rapidly changing. So, what might happen if we learn to improvise just that much more effectively.”

Adopting an Improv Mindset

In the video, Reid explains how despite people often thinking of improv as a comedy technique, there are distinct advantages in everyone adopting what he calls an improv mindset.

Many municipal organizations, he said, are facing challenges they never expected. As a result, they are looking at how to better equip their staff in order to respond more effectively to rapid change and uncertainty.

“Theatrical improvisation is innovation in real time. Improv practice is like exposure therapy for the change adverse,” Reid said. “It gives us tangible tools we can allow ourselves to build our change management skills, build resiliency, build flexibility. That is something we are often asked to help with within a municipal context.”

Establishing a Municipal “Yes” Culture

The goal for municipalities, Reid said, is to build what is called a “yes” culture, where municipal organization seeks to accept something before they critique or evaluate it. Suspending that reaction, even for a short period of time, allows for psychological safety within teams to increase so that people are more willing to get on the same side of the table on a given topic.

“This allows themselves to hear other ideas, to trust each other more intensely,” Reid said. “Ultimately it’s where amazing ideas might come about because we understand everyone will at least accept our ideas. There are so many wonderful ideas that will die between the brain and the mouth.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Jo Flatt’s articles: Getting to innovation in municipal government. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

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