Improv skills lead to success

Improv and the Game of Chicken

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If you’ve watched any movies from the 1950s about disaffected youths, you are surely familiar with the game of Chicken. In the game of Chicken, two kids drive toward each other at high speed. The first person to swerve loses – that is, that person is the chicken. As with all 2 x 2 games, there are four ways for it to play out. The payoffs appear in the following table.


The first outcome is if both drivers swerve, which results in payoffs of zero. Both drivers swerve, so that means that neither of them won. But, because the outcome was equal, neither of them lost, either. The next two outcomes occur when one driver swerves and the other stays straight. In that case, we do have a clear winner and a clear loser, which is reflected in the payoffs of plus one for the winner and minus one for the loser. In the fourth case, disaster strikes. In that fourth case, neither driver swerves and there is a high-speed, head-on collision.

You probably don’t have to stretch your imagination to see how this game can play out in improv and business. When you create an improv scene, someone has to be willing to give up control. Even if it’s only for a moment, players must accept what other players say and do so they can continue to build a consistent reality without interrupting the audience’s enjoyment. The best outcome in a game of Chicken when you’re performing an improv scene is to have one player swerve and one player continue straight on. That means one player made a solid decision and all the other player has to do is follow along and build on what is been established. If both players swerve, that means no one is taking the reins and attempting to drive the scene forward.

Next…chicken and business.

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