Human beings set themselves goals, identify the available means, calculate consequences, involve the relevant knowledge in each case, take routine into account and then attempt to compose an action plan within this orientation framework. This is how homo economicus does it. However, today’s complex, unmanageable working world challenges this theoretical concept from the 19th century. It needs quick decisions despite complex circumstances. Improvisation as actions with faster problem identification, idea generation and implementation of the idea is called for here. A research project headed by Asst. Prof. Dr. Lukas Zenk, Danube University Krems, plans to place the art of improvisation within the framework of organizations and thus make it applicable for companies.

Creativity in realtime

"We want to develop a framework of organizational improvisation with the aim of describing and promoting the socio-cognitive processes of people's ability to improvise," says Zenk about the research project. The researchers at Danube University Krems, the University of Vienna and the management consultancy Strategy Sprints are focusing on working situations in which creative action is taken in real time and new solutions must be developed ad hoc. So far, this has been neglected in past models and empirical studies. A special role is played by experts with the ability to break out of traditional patterns of thinking and action, and to develop new ones. For this purpose, improvisational theatre actors and jazz musicians from the arts as well as innovators and entrepreneurs from the business world will be interviewed in order to examine their mindsets and behaviors.

From the arts to the business world

In classical theatre, actors have a clear plan as to when they will say what and how they will act. Zenk: "Improvisational theatre actors act very differently from classical actors. They go on stage without knowing which story they will play with which characters. They do not follow a given plan but act in the here and now - they improvise". This ability must be trained intensively in order to be able to use it later, on stage. A similar skill is also needed outside of art, where people have to perform new, non-routine actions. For example, innovators and entrepreneurs are often challenged to develop new ideas under extreme time pressure, to work in agile sprints and to master risky situations that cannot be planned in advance. They improvise by using and recombining the currently available resources in the best possible way. The young research field of Organizational Improvisation is concerned with investigating and promoting this creative ability in the corporate context. The global demand for this topic is reflected in the exponential increase in publications.

Prototypes for practical application

The consortium plans to develop prototypical concepts for interventions so that entrepreneurs and companies can apply the scientific findings in everyday business scenarios. Training designs and analog tools supporting real-time creativity will be developed and tested to enable people to act in increasingly complex and dynamic work contexts, even in unforeseen situations. The video interviews conducted with experts will be continuously published as the project progresses, to make the results available in real time.

Research field Organizational Improvisation

The research project is one of the first in the field of Organizational Improvisation. Goals for the future involve establishing stronger ties between the Research Lab Collaborative Creativity and Innovation at Danube University Krems and the Vienna Cognitive Science Hub. Pulling the Vienna Complexity Science Hub on board is also planned.


A framework for Organizational Improvisation (Improvisation)


Funding agency: Austrian Research Promotion Agency FFG, Program Bridge

Project Duration: 2019 – 2022

Website: www.donau-uni.ac.at/improvisation

Project Lead: Ass. Prof. Mag. Dr. Lukas Zenk, Department for Knowledge and Communication Management, Danube Universtiy Krems

Project Partners:

Vienna Cognitive Science Hub, University of Vienna

strategysprints.com, venture partner

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