Dropping Assumptions: Applying Improvisation in the Workplace

The ability to think on your feet and adapt to new situations is more valuable than ever. This skill is at the heart of improvisation, a concept most commonly associated with theater and comedy. However, one of the core principles (or rules) of improvisation—dropping assumptions—can significantly enhance workplace dynamics and productivity.


The Nature of Assumptions

Assumptions are preconceived notions or beliefs that we hold, often unconsciously. In the workplace, these might pertain to how tasks should be completed, the roles and capabilities of team members, or the expected outcomes of certain actions. While some assumptions can streamline decision-making and reduce uncertainty, they can also limit creativity and collaborative communication and hinder effective problem-solving.


Why Dropping Assumptions Matters

  1. Enhanced Creativity and Innovation: Assumptions can act as invisible barriers that prevent us from exploring new ideas. By consciously setting aside these assumptions, you can open yourself up to innovative solutions and creative approaches. For instance, instead of assuming that a particular method is the only way to complete a task, considering alternative strategies might lead to more efficient or effective outcomes.
  2. Improved Collaboration: In a team setting, assumptions about colleagues’ abilities, motivations, or work styles can create misunderstandings and conflict. Dropping these assumptions fosters a more inclusive and communicative environment, where team members feel valued and heard. This leads to more cohesive teamwork and a stronger sense of mutual respect.
  3. Adaptive Problem-Solving: Holding onto rigid assumptions can impede this adaptability. By letting go of these preconceived notions, you can better assess situations as they arise and develop flexible, responsive solutions.


Applying Improvisation Techniques in the Workplace

  1. Yes, And: The foundational principle of improvisation is “Yes, And.”  This involves accepting a colleague’s idea (the “Yes”) and then building upon it (the “And”). In practice, this means suspending judgment and assumptions about the idea’s viability and instead exploring its potential. This approach can lead to unexpected and highly creative solutions.
  2. Active Listening: Dropping assumptions requires truly listening to others, not just hearing what they say so that you can respond. Active listening promotes empathy and ensures that all team members feel their contributions are valued. This can lead to more effective collaboration.
  3. Embrace Uncertainty: Improvisation thrives on uncertainty. In the workplace, this means being comfortable with not having all the answers and being open to experimenting with different approaches. Embracing uncertainty can reduce the fear of failure and encourage a culture of continuous learning and improvement.
  4. Diverse Perspectives: Actively seek out and value diverse perspectives within your team. This can help to counteract the biases and assumptions that may arise from a homogenous group. Diverse viewpoints can spark innovative ideas and provide more comprehensive solutions to complex problems.

By fostering creativity, enhancing collaboration, and improving adaptability, the principles of improvisation can help organizations thrive. So next time you’re faced with a challenge at work, remember to drop your assumptions and embrace the possibilities that unfold.