Bob Kulhan is President, CEO, and Founder of Business Improv, an innovative consultancy that specializes in experiential learning and serves an international roster of blue-chip firms. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Columbia Business School.
A performer with over 20 years of stage credits, he has trained with a long list of legendary talents, including Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. An actor and former core faculty member in Chicago’s famed Second City and a member of the former resident company at the iO Theater,
Kulhan is a co-founder of the critically acclaimed Baby Wants Candy improv troupe. His work has been featured by such outlets as Big Think, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, the Financial Times, NPR, Slate, and the Wall Street Journal. Read More
This year, our shelves were packed with books profiling the personal and enterprise effects of globalization in the new economy. Covering topics as wide as how to improve workplace resiliency through improv comedy to reimagining corporate hiring strategies to leverage the gig economy, seven of my favorites lent sharp new insight into the direction of the labor market and enterprise’s response to it.
Here are my seven favorite books this year and what you can learn from each:
2. “Yes, and …” can make your workplace more resilient.
Bob Kulhan, founder of Business Improv, is as much a master improviser as he is a skilled businessman and his book, Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv, makes for a colorful and insightful read into the dynamics of improving workforce resiliency. Based on Kulhan’s decades of experience teaching the tenets improv to business leaders, the book explains how acceptance and adaptability — two of the main tenets of improv — are essential to ensuring smoothness of day-to-day functioning within an organization and its teams. Teaching momentary situational analysis, snap decision making and workplace camaraderie makes this book an excellent read for any manager looking to build a great team.
As Bob Kulhan points out in his book, busy executives are turning to the most unlikely sources to gain a competitive advantage. One of those unlikely sources is improvisational theater. While you might assume these executives are trying to get some much-needed comedic relief, Bob Kulhan points to something deeper. There is a talent present in good improv actors that he believes business leaders can tap into for powerful results. That talent is the subject and focus of Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv
Well, this one’s a bit different from the usual fare of Bible materials and such. I’m working on broadening my horizons. Bob Kulhan’s book definitely stretched my thought processes. One thing we don’t do well in established churches is improv. Whether you leave it like that or add an “e.”
This probably isn’t the first think Bob Kulhan had in mind when he wrote Getting to “Yes And”, but here’s my first response: this book demonstrates exactly what we have lost in the general education of America as we set aside the arts for budgetary concerns. Seriously, you are working through an entire book written by actor/comedian about how to apply the same tools from drama/comedy improv to your business and see how things change and improve. If we would have been teaching and encouraging arts all along, the need would be very different
Yes Business Improv is a Thing. Business Improv Founder & CEO Bob Kulhan Wrote a Book About it. Getting to “Yes, Bob Kulhan is an Adjunct Professor of Business Administration for The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University as well as an Adjunct Professor of Business for Columbia Business School, Columbia University. He also is the Founder and CEO of a company called Business Improv. Bob has a new book called Getting to “Yes, And” The Art of Business Improv, published by Stanford Business Books. Which led him to TotalPicture Radio, and a Career Strategies Podcast with your host Peter Clayton. I’ve been looking forward to talking with Bob for weeks. I’m a huge fan of improv, and Bob was trained at the famed Second City in Chicago, and to name-drop just a couple of people, he worked with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. I love standup too, and fortunately Netflix continues to serve up a continuous stream of standup comedy specials. Added recently, I highly recommend 3 Mics with Neal Brennan.AND.”
Bob Kulhan is an Adjunct Professor of Business Administration for The Fuqua School of Business, Duke University as well as an Adjunct Professor of Business for Columbia Business School, Columbia University. He also is the Founder and CEO of a company called Business Improv.
Bob has a new book called Getting to “Yes, And” The Art of Business Improv, published by Stanford Business Books. Which led him to TotalPicture Radio, and a Career Strategies Podcast with your host Peter Clayton.
I’ve been looking forward to talking with Bob for weeks. I’m a huge fan of improv, and Bob was trained at the famed Second City in Chicago, and to name-drop just a couple of people, he worked with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. I love standup too, and fortunately Netflix continues to serve up a continuous stream of standup comedy specials. Added recently, I highly recommend 3 Mics with Neal Brennan.AND.”
by STEPHEN J. BRONNER for Entrepreneur Magazine
Stop saying ‘Yes, but.’ Start getting to ‘Yes, and.’
I walked slowly across the room, stretched out my arms and said “hot frying pan” to a man I didn’t know. That man acted as if I’d passed him an imaginary skillet, pretended to feel its heat and passed the cookware to someone else.
What the hell have I gotten myself into? I thought.
When Bob Kulhan invited me to participate in a workshop by Business Improv, a training company he founded, I didn’t know what to think. Kulhan’s sessions aim to teach lay people improv acting techniques so they can apply them to all of life’s interactions. My main exposure to improvisational comedy was old snippets of Whose Line Is It Anyway? But hey, who’s not up for professional development, right? If I’m being honest, I also wondered whether the session would end as two hours of bad acting and awkward chuckles. Read More
Having run a short training session based on improv with my own team many years ago (where we focused on the concept of ‘yes and’) I was immediately attracted by the title. It’s impossible not to smile when you read this book. Whether it is the ‘Eights’ exercise or celebrating ridiculous ideas, “Yes And” will remind you how to have fun at work – and as a result I’m convinced your business will be more effective. Read More
In the early morning of May 2, 2011, a team of Navy SEALS invaded a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and killed Osama Bin Laden. As author Bob Kulhan writes in his book, Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv, “the mission had been meticulously planned: the SEALS trained for it over months and several contingency plans were developed and put into place.” Unfortunately, during the raid, one of the team’s helicopters crashed. In addition, “the SEALS discovered that the intelligence they’d based their plans on was not entirely accurate,” he writes. “There were a number of unknown variables (how many people they would encounter, the types of people, the weapons, the doors and hallways, etc.). So they had to improvise.” Read More
By Bob Kulhan for Great Leadership
Most of us aspire to be great leaders—passionate, inspiring, thoughtful and productive. But we all know people in the business world who do a terrible job in leadership positions: awful bosses, disengaged department heads, ineffective team managers, and otherwise bad bigwigs in nice offices who make the work environment an unpleasant one.
So if we all have the potential to be great leaders, where do some go wrong? Perhaps some leaders have developed bad habits; some lack an understanding of what it takes to be a good leader; and some feel they’re leading well simply because they’re focused on their intention to lead, not the results of their leadership. I specialize in bringing improvisational skills to the workplace, and one of the key elements of improvisational thinking is the ‘self-audit’—the ability to be aware in real time of how you’re doing your job and how your actions and leadership style are impacting those around you. Read More
Amidst the deluge of advice for business people, there lies an overlooked tool, a key to thriving in today’s fast-paced, unpredictable environment: improvisation! Bob Kulhan is the Founder, President & CEO of Business Improv®, a world-class leader in creating experiential training & development programs for corporations of all scopes & sizes. Kulhan serves as an Adjunct Professor at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business & Columbia Business School at Columbia University & teaches regularly as part of the Executive Education programs at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Do join us for a show where Bob will be Drawing on principles from cognitive and social psychology, behavioral economics, and communication, and will teach us how to think on our feet and approach the most typical business challenges with fresh eyes and openness!
The now-largest generation is redefining the requirements for happiness on the job.
By Coeli Carr for Inc. Magazine
Drawing on his early career as an improv comic and his current experience as business trainer, CEO, and college teacher, Bob Kulhan offers a far-reaching lesson on how we can use mental agility and respectful communication to improve organizational outcomes and culture. At first, Kulhan’s strong voice and high energy seem too dramatic, and some of the writing too bloated and cute. But one is quickly engaged by this master class on how to be phenomenally effective in communicating to and influencing people in work groups. Drawing on research in social and cognitive psychology and communication science, just one of his many valuable messages is that people become more authentically engaged when prevailing views are respected (“YES”) prior to adding new ideas (“AND”) to any discussions. T.W. © AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine Read More
“When you sit down and let the mind settle, the things you need to think about naturally arise.”
By Heleo Editors Mar 28, 2017
Rasmus Hougaard is the founder and managing director of the Potential Project, author of One Second Ahead: Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness, and an internationally recognized expert at training the mind to be focused. He recently joined Bob Kulhan, founder of the experiential learning consultancy Business Improv, former core faculty member in Chicago’s famed Second City, and author of Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv, for a Heleo Conversation on the power of being present.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Rasmus: What is the link between mindfulness and improv?
Bob: The root of improvisation is being focused and present in the moment. To react to somebody, I have to be aware of what’s being said. I can’t be drifting off into space thinking about what I need to do in the future or what I should have been doing in the past. I have to be right here linked with you. Read More
Collaboration, as many MBA students quickly learn, is key in a business environment. For four Duke University Fuqua School of Business students, that collaborative effort fostered an important victory on the road to a potentially fruitful career.
Paige Swofford, Liz Arnason and Mike DeNoia, Masters of Environmental Management (MEM) and MBA dual majors, alongside Daytime MBA student Yochai Ben Haim—all first-years at Fuqua—nabbed first place at last month’s Challenges in Energy Case Competition held at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Teamwork was essential to their victory, but their collaborative bond had formed long before the group entered the competition. Read More
Bob Kulhan And The Evolution Of Business Improv
Bob Kulhan, author, actor, and CEO of Business Improv, as well as adjunct professor at Duke and Columbia business schools, joins Steve to talk about what business people can learn from practicing techniques borrowed from the world of improvisation. Bob has worked with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and has taught for many years at Second City, Chicago’s legendary comedy club and talent incubator. While he’s gone on to help countless businesses improve their communication cultures via corporate training programs staged by Business Improv, his insights and practices could arguably be used by just about anyone, whether to become more productive in business or for relationships overall.
Each month we compile a list of our top selling books. These books are featured on our site, within our Keen Thinker Newsletter, and syndicated through various publications. We hope the popularity of these titles offers guidance for those seeking an interesting and helpful new book. We report our bestsellers to The New York Times and Nielsen BookScan. Congratulations to these bestselling authors for February 2017! Read More
Reviewed By: Randy-Lynne Wach for Manhattan Book Review
I’m the first to admit I don’t do well at thinking and responding quickly, but I greatly admire people who can—especially when they can be witty at the same time. And, sure, I love to watch Whose Line is It, Anyway?, so maybe I came into this book with the sort of misconceptions that the author wanted to dispel about the idea of improv in business. And I may still be a little bit disappointed that the book was not just full of improv games to play in some sort of team-building activity. However, after dispelling my preconceptions, the author does deliver what was promised: a solid system for using principles of improv to achieve your best performance in business. Read More
by Charles Franklin for Small Business Trends
Why are business executives paying thousands for improv experts like Bob Kulhan? Besides possibly getting a much-needed laugh and chance to connect, these leaders know improvisation develops mental agility that powers athletes, soldiers, and others to stay focused amid the chaos. Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv”, written by an improv master who successfully brought improv to the business school at Duke University, helps leaders use that superpower to excel in leadership.
As Bob Kulhan points out in his book, busy executives are turning to the most unlikely sources to gain a competitive advantage. One of those unlikely sources is improvisational theater. While you might assume these executives are trying to get some much-needed comedic relief, Bob Kulhan points to something deeper. There is a talent present in good improv actors that he believes business leaders can tap into for powerful results. That talent is the subject and focus of Getting to “Yes And”: The Art of Business Improv. Read More
By Bob Kulhan, the Founder, President, and CEO of Business Improv
There are plenty of companies that exemplify what happens when you fail to embrace improv —Blockbuster, Radio Shack and Kodak are examples of companies that did not embrace change, did not take advantage of unexpected opportunities and did not adapt to an evolving consumer landscape.
So how do you use improv effectively in business?
The skills that we rely on during improv — including centered thinking and split-second decision-making — also apply to many day-to-day challenges of the business world: running productive meetings, sparking exceptional brainstorming sessions, providing tough feedback, managing conflict, networking, creating entrepreneurial corporate cultures. In business, improvisation thrives at the pivotal intersection where planning and strategy meet execution.
Want to have better brainstorms and faster meetings? Reshuffle everyone’s status and rank.
by BOB KULHAN for Fast Company
Status is powerful. Once a team gets working, any initial willingness to communicate can go right out the window if nobody feels comfortable disagreeing with the VP at the end of the table, or the new junior salesperson who might have something to say.
But our positions within a company are actually a combination of rank and status. Your job title and the responsibilities that go with it comprise your rank. But your status is given to you by other people, or taken away by other people (either to your face or behind your back). Most of the time, people with a high rank are granted a great deal of status by coworkers—that’s the nature of a corporate ladder. Read More
Adapted from “Getting to “Yes, And”: The Art of Business Improv” by Bob Kulhan, (Stanford University Press, (c) 2017 Robert Kulhan).
One of the keys to success in any business lies in the ability to generate a tremendous amount of ideas, because when it comes down to it, almost every organization is, at heart, in the idea business. This is not a revolutionary concept. However, what often is overlooked—or simply misunderstood—is that the generation of great ideas is a numbers game. Businesses ostensibly are always looking for killer ideas that will boost profits and cut costs; ideas that streamline processes and maximize investments; and ideas that will have significant impact in the marketplace. To get to those killers, though, a business may have to cough up a mess of ideas that are ridiculous, budget busting, unusable, or simply awful.
A business that runs on the assumption that it will come up with a great idea exactly when it needs one is severely limiting, if not deluding, itself. That business is most likely achieving “greatness” by simply lowering the standard of what counts as great. The fact is, to get to unimpeachably great ideas—sharp, innovative, outright brilliant ones—you have to come up with an ugly pile of horrible ones, too (Osborn, Alex, “Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem Solving,” 3rd ed., Creative Education Foundation Press, 1963). By way of analogy, think about the old process of gold panning. As you might remember from elementary school studies of the California Gold Rush, panning is the art of extracting gold from a river by scooping up sediment with a large pan. Panning is a sloppy, difficult process, and it can get results.
by Marty Zwilling, Veteran Start-up Mentor; Executive (for Huffington Post)
As an entrepreneur, you have to improvise and adapt quickly to survive and thrive in the face of the unpredictable challenges of the market. But this improvisation a not a comedy, although there are some distinct correlations, in relation to reacting, adapting, and communicating. In business and in comedy, you win most often with “Yes, and …” instead of “Yes, but ….”
I definitely learned a few things about how to improvise effectively in business from a new book, “Getting to ‘Yes And’: The Art of Business Improv,” by Bob Kulhan, who is a master of the art in both comedy and business. Kulhan is a professor at the Duke University School of Business, but was trained in improvisation by some comedy greats, including Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
By David Slocum (for Forbes)
2017 is opening with a stack of new and helpful books on technology, transformation, and the human and business challenges faced by creative leaders. Here is a list of 17 recommended titles.
Getting to ‘Yes And’: The Art of Business Improv
Bob Kulhan with Chuck Crisafulli, Stanford Business Books , January 11
An actor, former teacher at Chicago’s famed Second City troupe, and now an adjunct professor at Duke and Columbia business schools shares insights from comedic improvisation for better business performance. Kulhan’s lively guide to developing listening, focus, energy, engagement, adaptation, and decision-making skills provides leaders fresh ways to drive positive change in today’s fast-paced workplace. Read More
By SUE SHELLENBARGER
Using humor at the office can boost your status, but only the right kind of humor
Colleagues who make others laugh are seen as more self-confident, competent and higher in status, according to a series of experiments by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Harvard Business School. This conclusion, compelling for the many people who have spent on clothes, cars, credentials or coaching to burnish their image, has gotten some understandable attention recently.
Laughs are a risky path to prestige, however: Tell just one inappropriate joke and your status among peers hits the skids.
Humor is often seen as a sign of intelligence, and delivering a joke well requires sensitivity to others’ moods and tastes. John Thorne often uses self-deprecating humor to elevate his employees’ status among clients. As president of Automotive Events, a Cleveland-based producer of car-related promotions, he’s often the one who wins new clients. Read More
You won’t find giggles in this script for mastering business improvisation by Second City alumnus Bob Kulhan. A skills-focused walkthrough to “allow serious people to accomplish serious business in the most effective way,” the book shows how improv draws on communication science like behavioral decision theory.
Using Kulhan’s “yes, and” approach, leaders create “mental hiccups in the business mind” that upgrade reacting, adapting, and communicating to higher levels of critical thinking. One key: teaching our brain to postpone natural leaps to judgment in favor of “unconditional acceptance.”
With advice from Kulhan—now an adjunct professor at Duke and Columbia universities—and practice, you can improvise better negotiations, brainstorming, and that meeting with your moody boss.
It’s an admission ticket to a performance of you at your best.
Bob Kulhan, a veteran improv comedian and instructor who also happens to be an adjunct professor at Duke and Columbia Universities, has built a thriving consultancy, Business Improv, by providing experiential training to companies such as Ford, American Express and Verizon Wireless.
Kulhan learned at the feet of comedy royalty such as Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, but he also draws on cognitive psychology and behavioral economics to teach people how to think on their feet. The key principle in modern improv is “Yes, and”—a gesture of trust and acceptance that enables a comedian (or businessperson) to build on what they’ve been given. Its contrast, “Yes, but,” kills the comedy, or in business, stifles communication and creativity. “The same skills that make for exceptional comedic improvisation—intense listening, focus, energy, engagement, teamwork, authenticity, adaptability—are skills that any person can utilize to positively impact the workplace.” Read More