Working with many international young professionals in Israel, it became clear to me how certain soft skills are imperative for one’s growth – whatever the industry and profession may be. One of those skills is Improv: the ability to absorb information, think fast, answer effectively and adjust to situations in order to promote your goals. This is post is co-written with Rita Ritvin, who helps both individuals and teams practice this skill.
Don’t Be George Costanza
One of the many epic Seinfeld episodes is “The Comeback”, in which George Costanza is being mocked by a colleague at work – and completely freezes. Later, after being frustrated that he did not know what to say in real time, he comes up with an answer, and goes back to throw it back at his colleagues – only to be faced with a new unexpected answer. This routine continues and escalates throughout the episode, in a hilarious way.
Why This Is Key for International Talents in Israel?
The way to avoid such situations is to harness the ability to improvise. Facing an Israeli work culture which is different than the one you’re used to, and learning to bridge the two as an opportunity, requires learning how to “be Israeli with Israelis” when expected, and in contrast – put your home culture to work for you as an asset, when possible. Also, the ability to improvise is a very appreciated trait in Israeli culture, known by the verb לאלתר (“to alter”, or “to improvise”).
For participants in programs such as Masa Israel Journey, Onward Israel, TAMID Fellowship and others, this skill must be harnessed fast, since time in these programs tends to “fly by” before you even realize it, and especially since attempts of getting “into character” and trying to quickly fit into an unfamiliar culture often feels synthetic, non-natural and inapt to many.
Is It Really Only a Local Challenge?
Well, no. It’s actually a universal one. If we were to move to Japan – we might also feel inapt in that environment. This is exactly why the key is not to just learn how to “be Israeli with Israelis”, but rather to obtain and practice a set of skills that allows you to adjust naturally. Learn how to adapt to any new and unfamiliar culture. And that exactly what Improv is.
What Is Improv in Business and Life?
In the world of theater, Improv is inventing a scene on the spot. Many people think it’s just spontaneous and unrehearsed, but it’s really a skill that is being practiced in every aspect of life, so that you feel completely comfortable in any situation.
This ability seems to have tremendous implications for business people, and it’s not a new concept. Companies like Google and PepsiCo have increasingly turned to improv teachings for team building and communication.
Just like a chameleon, Improv helps us quickly and efficiently adjust to any environment, and be able to continue progressing as we were – blended in and camouflaged. So, if we are all business units in the new world of work and if we want to master the art of networking in order to not just “look for a job”, but to “biz-dev”, if thinking creatively is key in order to find unnoticed opportunities (the “Gold” in the “Gray”) while effectively communicating our goals, desires and needs in order to succeed in our internship as participants in career programs in Israel, and if we truly want to make the secret advantage of unpaid internships work for us – we must learn to Improv.
And even though it requires “keeping in shape”, there is also a part which is just like riding a bicycle. Thus, when acquiring those skills in a relatively young age, it becomes natural to you. Just like a chameleon.
So, whether if it’s scoring that job interview, being a “rockstar” in that meeting, negotiating with the other side, reaching out to relevant people and networking effectively – Improv skills are key. And fun.
A Key Improv Practice for Your Career
Here’s one basic Improv practice from Rita Ritvin, for business and life in general: Use the “Yes, and” strategy.
The basic rule of improv is saying “yes, and” throughout the scene, unquestionably accepting the idea that your partner has just presented, and adding your next idea on top of it, which will also be accepted in return. Practice not saying “no, this idea isn’t good” rather “yes, and another way to do this is X.” Accept their idea and add your own, so that eventually you find a common ground.