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Principles Of Improvisation Can Empower Strategic Change — Andy Eninger of Second City Gives Lecture At Wright State

This morning I had the pleasant experience of participating in Wright States’  “Organizational Effectiveness Lecture Series” offered by Wright State’s Business Department. The speaker, Andy Eninger, presented a lot of good information and got participants to interact with each other to develop that information. Eninger has a long history of working with improvisation at Second City in Chicago. He showed how practicing the principles of improvisation helped him act as an effective leader. He told of being appointed to head the writing program for Second City when its beloved founder, Mary, died. (Her name is “Mary,” but I didn’t get the last name.) It was a huge challenge to replace such a person. He did a good job of explaining how principles of improvisation he had practiced in his work at Second City helped.

In improvisation, actors practice working together, practice building each other up, practice saying “yes” to each other in order to construct a story. The Wright State announcement advertising this lecture said: “Great leaders build a story that builds trust, gives purpose and inspires.” An even greater leader, I guess, builds the story with the help of his or her listeners so that everyone has ownership. I thought Eninger gave some good insight into how that process works. It’s not enough to have facts and data and well prepared bullet points, a successful leader — through a connecting story, through effective metaphors — will engage listeners in understanding and caring about this information

Eninger talked about the importance of finding the right metaphor. He cited one study where one group was given crime data and was given information that described crime in terms of a dangerous animal in need of control. A second group was given the same crime data, and information that described crime in terms of a virus, a public health issue, that was in need of control. The participants’ responses were telling — the first group calling for harsher punishment, the second group calling for more broad-based solutions. The study showed the power of metaphor to shape judgement.

The title of the presentation was “How To Use Storytelling To Lead To Strategic Change.” During the presentation I kept wondering how the information I was hearing could apply to our local Democratic Party organization, The Montgomery County Democratic Party. The MCDP quadrennial Reorganization Meeting is scheduled for June 7. The 141 Democrats who will be elected to the Central Committee at the Democratic Primary on May 8 are empowered by the Ohio Revised Code to make big changes in the MCDP organization. A big change, of course, requires a big consensus. To develop a consensus, a shared story, is the challenge. As I explained in a previous post, in terms of reorganizing the MCDP, I’m hoping that the individuals elected to the Central Committee will come together and agree on a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (a BHAG) — a six year plan for transformation. I’m pondering what I learned today from Andy Eninger.

This lecture was held at the Nutter Center in the Berry room and included a nice breakfast. It was a first class event. I enjoyed Mr. Eninger, I enjoyed the morning, and I’m glad I attended.

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