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wundayatta's avatar

What is the role of improvisation in your work?

Asked by wundayatta (58663points) February 13th, 2012

How much of what you do is prescribed for you at work? Is there a role for improvisation? Describe your work and the places where you are allowed or required to improvise. Where are you forbidden to improvise? Why? Do the rules either for or against improvisation make sense?

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9 Answers

lifeflame's avatar

Ok, I have two jobs. I teach, and I direct.

When I teach, I’m working within certain constraints. I have two hours a week with 6–8 students in a classroom. I’m supposed to set them homework, and but in the end, as long as I give them the skills to get a good grade in their English Literature examinations, I get free rein on the syllabus.

Which means within this context, I can adapt or change according to the personality of the students and what I think they need. I think with any kind of improvisation, you look for structures that help you. Sometimes you establish rituals that allow people to know what they are doing. Other times you will break establish patterns because you need to vary their attention span. Sometime you adapt to achieve a certain goal. For example, for a while the students were coming in late, so we went through a cycle of practising past papers in the first 40 mins, so if they arrived late they would have less time to complete the task. Once that habit was established, ok, I can change the game again. let’s read a play for the first half of class.

In my other job as theatre director, I pretty much get free rein on every single aspect of the production. Obviously there are constraints when it comes with working with venues, funding bodies, etc; but I see them as choices I can take. Sometimes the venues will forbid you to do certain things (my favourite is a theatre venue contract that will not allow you to abuse animals or waste food); and other things you have to fight for (we want to move the seats, play with fire, etc), but anyway, if a venue or funding body is too restrictive, then next time I’ll just walk.

In my creative work there’s a lot of improvisation. I mean this literally. And I’m constantly adapting the script/production to what the actor’s have to offer. However, like any improv, you have to set rules for yourself; otherwise it’s just mush. So the creative project is constrained by a certain fixed point you want to explore, or certain rules that you set yourself.

downtide's avatar

I work in customer service for an insurance company, and when dealing with customers over the phone there are certain things I am required by law to say – for instance that the call is recorded, and that any personal data may be used by ourselves but is not passed to third parties. If I make a sale I have to give key points about the contract and payment and rules for cancellation. However I can use my own wording for all of these; I’m not forced to read a script parrot-fashion.

I also deal with customer queries by letter and email; the same rules apply; there are things I legally MUST inform the customer about, but the way I say it is up to me.

The rules allowing improvisation do make sense. For a few years we were forced to stick to a word-for-word script and it caused more mistakes and omissions, not less. There are a few customer advisors whose communication skills are not so good and for them, a word-by-word script may suit them better; for those people they are still free to use such a script if they find it helps.

jerv's avatar

I am a CNC machinist, and there are many occasions where something needs to be made on short notice; too short to wait for proper tooling and/or material. FYI, a regular hole saw designed for wood can cut steel if you give it plenty of coolant and keep the feed rate under 0.002”/revolution… assuming you have a way to mount it in a lathe… or make a way to mount it because UPS can’t deliver in under three hours.

john65pennington's avatar

Cops have to improvise all the time, depending on the circustances of the problem at hand.

wundayatta's avatar

@lifeflame I like the way you point out the role of structure in improvisation.

@downtide That’s really interesting that forcing people to follow a script can cause more mistakes. Intuitively, that feels right to me, but why is that?

@jerv Sounds like you are particularly proud of that bit of improvisation.

@john65pennington Can you provide an example of improvisation you are particularly proud of?

jerv's avatar

@wundayatta It’s too common an occurrence to be proud of that particular example.

downtide's avatar

@wundayatta I think it’s because people get more flustered if they’re trying to stick to a script that doesn’t come naturally. And when the customer asks a question that’s not covered by the script.

linguaphile's avatar

Improvisation… happens everyday in the classroom. It has to—I never know what will come out of my students’ mouths from second to second and have to be ready to answer questions from all possible angles.

That’s just for work. For fun, I’m an improv actor.

Earthgirl's avatar

I don’t know if I would call what I do improvisation. I am a designer and I am called upon to be constantly coming up with new ideas. It can be very stressful. You can fall back on what’s been successful in the past or what you see other companies doing well with, but in the end, you have to believe in your work or you can’t convince anyone else to believe in it either. There is always that moment of fear and possibility at the beginning of a new season. I am at that point now. There is no one to push me forward or inspire me save myself. It’s competitive and I hate competing! I am certainly not forbidden to improvise but I have a boss who likes a sure thing. I need to have confidence in the ideas I am promoting and it’s all based on a lot of intuition. Honestly, sometimes I feel like I am just thankful I got through another week, other times I can’t believe they pay me to do what I do! It’s crazy but I don’t know anything else so I keep on plugging….yeah, and “improvising”, lol.

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