Illustration by Christian Leborg


How to improvise prototypes for work

The tasks and actions of work are services and not products. You can improvise prototypes of work through scenarios, procedures, or interactions.

Ask some colleagues or other stakeholders to name the challenges they have at work. Find someone you trust and who trusts you, with whom you can talk withand work through the improvisation techniques to gain practice and insight. Do you know who they are and how you can work with them? The desire to become a better improviser gives you an extra dimension. Before it was just problems, now you also see ‘offers’. Instead of struggling with setbacks, focus on finding new ways to use the offers.
Do not worry about getting stuck. You learn to stop because you know it is more fruitful to be careful. The difficulty does not disappear, but you engage in it instead of fighting it. Tell the participants what you want to achieve and how you together may improvise prototypes to find solutions. Do not cling to the fact you know what you want. It will make you not discover anything different and new. Allow a playful setting to loosen up, to help you ‘let go’ of things.
The result of the improvisation
Ask questions so that the answers contribute to solving the challenge of how to succeed. For example: “This is what we have to do. How would you suggest we implement these methods?”. Improvisation can fulfil the desire for others to understand you. If you facilitate, you will have your own answers to some of these questions. Often the happiest parts of the story are when someone merges things that were already there by being a conscious listener.
The person who came up with the chosen scenario will direct the play so that the rest of you can interact with the prototype. The practice encourages you to engage as a whole person, not just a rational mind. The leader will welcome you all to the game and recognise and value the information you collect through perception, attitude, and movement. You will appreciate speed and response, rather than accuracy or precision. The improvisation game will give you a head start of creating a flow of ideas and energy instead of coming up with solutions.
Participants often ask what the end goal is. This reveals that they have some assumptions. They want to know what is the correct answer. You will treat the question as an ‘offer’. Ask them what they think the task was. They may see something you do not see that can help you. After doing this, you will probably want to share what your purpose is. Think carefully about what you want to do and why you want to do it, but do not decide on a specific result.
What you want to learn
Create a script with roles and suggestions for dialogue so that everyone can understand the prototyping process. Use the ‘yes-and’-technique where you react to an offer positively and build on the suggestion. To be able to respond better to ‘offers’, improvisers can create a story. Improvisors incorporate distractions seamlessly while on the go. They can build ideas from things that are present. In search of something new, the improvisation practice gives you a question you will instigate into action. Explore how the story can unfold based on different behaviours and decisions.
Make a prototype of whatever you are designing
–Robert Poynton
Explore exercises, processes and challenges for you and your team. You, as the creative director, provide feedback, suggestions for dialogue lines or actions as the actors become more confident during the scene. You can start and stop the game or go back and try different parts. Encourage the group to work together to play out the different behaviours, timelines and dialogues to see what happens in them. Improvisation of prototypes makes you reach for places you have not been.
Ask the group to reflect on what they learned from the play, individually and as a group. What did they notice or get surprised by? Improvisation practices create a flow of ideas and energy instead of arriving at one answer. Prototyping by improvisation is an example of the realization that very simple actions can generate great complexity. Improvisation generates ideas and behaviours through evolution instead of evaluation and shows that we can give direction without having control. Emphasize acting rather than drawing conclusions.
Go through the scenario of a new work procedure, give feedback, and come up with new suggestions. Improvisation games give you something concrete to do. Exercises have simple rules for how to carry them out, and it often just takes a few minutes to learn them. We can use the scenarios for specific purposes, such as testing new ideas. They give a very physical introduction to the practice. The creative process does not stop because, during the progress, you can change the idea.

Tips for improvisation:

• Notice more

• Use everything

• Let go

Robert Poynton

Create prototypes
Refine, detail, and complete the new work idea. The creative process does not stop because you have created something concrete. You cannot expect anything to happen during the game. Have the attitude that you are just trying things out. Create a prototype as soon as you can and see how it works. Design an experiment as a game to convey your idea. Learn from the experience, incorporate what you have learned, and then eventually create a new prototype.
Implement solutions
Reflect on what you noticed and test the prerequisites from the planning, execution, and interaction. Start by physically implementing the visible suggestions you have received. Implement the ideas you have experimented with as improvised prototypes. The adjustments will show that you have not only spoken to the whole group of actors, but you have observed and listened to them as well. There will always be restraints to changes. Stay focused on the ultimate destination, and you will get there sooner than you expect.
Be persistent in making changes happen. Do not do exercises that only last the time you have available. Use the time to do several exercises, or the same exercise many times. It drives the creative process and makes you feel differently about the limitations. Instead of being a problem, there are ‘offers’. You can never solve the most intractable problems. Instead of coming up with work procedures, you can invent a stream of creative solutions as you adapt to the new working conditions.