Guest contributions:

04.22.13  Uncommon Leadership 

04.02.15  Switch and Shift  

05.13.15  Better Practice Team Performance

05.29.15  Better Practice Team Performance

07.08.15  Switch and Shift 

07.14.15  Better Practice Team Performance

10.05.15  Switch and Shift 

Stacey's Reading List...


"Tribe of Mentors" by Timothy Ferriss

"Shortcut" by John Pollack 

"Seeing What Others Don't" by Gary Klein

"Several Short Sentences About Writing" by Verlyn Klinkenborg

"The Birkman Method - Your Personality at Work" by Sharon Birkman Fink and Stephanie Capparell

"Creative Intelligence" by Bruce Nussbaum 

"Improv Wisdom" by Patricia Ryan Madson

"Training To Imagine" by Kat Koppett

"Quiet" by Susan Cain

"Where Good Ideas Come From" by Steven Johnson

"A Whole New Mind" by Daniel H. Pink

"Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman 

"Rework" by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson  

"The Leadership Pipeline" by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, James Noel  

"Life:  Selected Quotations" by Paulo Coelho 

"Deep Change" by Robert Quinn

"The Power of Full Engagement" by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz  

"The Way of the Shepherd" by Dr. Kevin Leman and William Pentak  

"Developing the Leader Within You" by John Maxwell  

"Mr. Peabody's Apples" by Madonna

"Orbiting the Giant Hairball" by Gordon MacKenzie




blog archive

Merging The Birkman Method with Applied Improvisation [white paper]

Understanding How You’re Wired by Playing With How You Think

[Merging The Birkman Method® with Applied Improvisation]

 by Stacey Mason | Mason On Leadership

November 2014

Republished August 2016 | Birkman Conference, New Orleans

Republished February 2018 | Birkman Conference, Atlanta

 All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.   - Shakespeare

Let me set the stage (pun intended) by describing myself.  I am highly structured and extremely disciplined.  I like routine, order and precision.  My life operates like a well-oiled machine.  I’m also a very private, introverted person.  I keep things to myself.  The most profound things I keep the most to myself.

Yet in early 2009, I boldly took a series of improv classes.  At first they were unbelievably uncomfortable.  And messy and chaotic.  I failed – a lot.  I figured it out a little bit at a time.  I found a voice that worked for me – sarcasm.  And discovered a bonus – apparently I display a compelling array of facial expressions when I’m performing.  I might also mention that the classes were filled with weirdos.  Of which of course, I was one.  In the end, it was as if my perfectly orchestrated black and white world had just witnessed the invention of Technicolor. 

Here’s what I learned, and keep learning, as a student of improv:  humans have an enormous capacity to exhibit a wide range of personal behaviors.  We just tend to gravitate toward our personality preferences.  So the answer to the question of whether we can adapt as needed in different environments is yes.  Yes, and…

Every behavior is the right behavior at the right time.  The challenge is that sometimes we need a behavior that we don’t own (that means a behavior that is not a preference).  Learning how to “borrow behaviors” increases our effectiveness in navigating a wide array of situations and interactions.  Essentially, it’s learning to be comfortable stepping outside of our comfort zones.  A wider range of behaviors creates options and choices.  And choices are powerful.  

Understanding how you’re wired by playing with how you think is the premise of the Improve Thru Improv® platform.  It was created to merge the conversations of behavioral understanding with Applied Improvisation through the use of insight, perspective and humor. 

  • The Birkman Method® is the most comprehensive instrument for “understanding how you’re wired”.  This personality assessment is a powerful tool that identifies ones passions, behaviors, motivations and interests.  The reality is that your perceptions – right or wrong – influence everything else you do.
  • “Playing with how you think” takes center stage through the use of Applied Improvisation (AI).  AI is the use of principles, tools, practices, skills and mindsets of improvisational theater in non-theatrical settings...that may result in personal development, team development, creativity, innovation and/or meaningful change.  

I’d like to highlight five key areas of developmental application based on the intersection of behavioral understanding and AI:


It is not my intent to advocate for one set of personal behaviors over another.  Because it’s not an either/or question…it’s a both/and.  We need everyone contributing to the greater good in a way that works for them.  And we need everyone developing an understanding of that which is different from them.  The brilliance of connecting The Birkman Method® with AI is that it starts a conversation – a conversation about how people are differentWe are all wired differently.  We have different interests, we have different needs, we prefer different environments, we enjoy different interactions, we express different emotions…  Different.  We are all humans.  We are just differently human.  


Leadership is part science and part art.  It’s never really just about “what” you do, because it’s influenced greatly by “how” you do it.  Style really does matter. The art of improvisation plays a key role in business and leadership thinking. Improv is literally, “playing with how you think”.  Bruce Nussbaum, author of Creative Intelligence, talks about the value of improv as being “the powerful creative competence of reframing.”  Reframing encourages alternative perspectives. 

Improvisation capitalizes on the creative process to help “reframe” how leaders interpret and leverage their personal style. Intentional effort applied to leadership competencies (science) will undoubtedly serve a leader well. The differentiation, though, is how the leader chooses to demonstrate his or her mastered skills (art). 


Improv transcends as it translates, which is perhaps why so many companies are merging this art form with business thinking.  An improv platform provides an avenue for academic and developmental discussions around topics such as finding your voice, creating executive presence, storytelling, increasing divergent problem solving skills, driving creativity and innovation, understanding exposure to risk, maintaining a sense of humor, and collaboration.  All of these components have very real-world business application.  Business acumen is merged with improvisational techniques to deliver personal insights and powerful strategies. 


People are starving for feedback.  Actually, people are starving for meaningful feedback.  There is a difference.  Plato is credited with saying that “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”  I truly believe that.  The improv environment is uniquely designed for immediate feedback from multiple advantage points:  the audience (via response and/or interaction), fellow scene partners (through chemistry and connectivity), flow of the scene (processing character and emotion), and personal introspection (unraveling insights).  Improv operates in a constant state of discovery.   


My favorite question from improv participants is “is ‘that’ normal…?”.  My unwavering response is always “no”.  There is no normal.  Normal operates on a relative continuum.  Our personalities operate on a similar continuum.  Perspective takes us far beyond the simply dichotomy of I see it this way and you see it that way; it introduces the notion that between two ends of a scale, there is a spectrum of understanding.  Perhaps ultimately, we learn to replace judgment with curiosity.  In the words of Dr. Wayne Dyer, “If we change the way that we look at things, the things that we look at change.” 

Everything about improv is counter to who I am at the core of my being.  There is no script, it’s all made up as you go, and there are no wrong answers.  It’s highly collaborative team play.  Said differently, it’s ensemble creativity.  And it begs the question:  why would a highly structured introvert take an improv class…?   

Because an increased understanding of your personal preferences, or more simply, “how you’re wired”, gives you a better understanding not only of yourself, but those around you.  These insights into human behavior are invaluable.  Understanding how we tick allows us to put ourselves in the place of most potential.  Understanding how others tick drives human connectivity.  

We can’t simply think ourselves into a new way of acting; we must act ourselves into a new way of thinking. 


 ...playing with how you think! 

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