What happens when you combine business with artistic performance, and then you spike it with a heavy dose of empathy and positive creativity? The answer: ImprovEdge LLC, a unique business that uses improvisation to provide training and consulting to teach business skills. The company’s products and services include workshops, retreats, long-term leadership development and strategic planning, content design and online training, and tools for creativity and critical conversations. “Through 10 years of research with Wharton School of Business and Otterbein College, we’ve uncovered ways to help people communicate, behave and work differently,” says Founder and CEO Karen Hough. It’s all about getting unstuck, she says, and that requires a mix of serious research, organizational psychology and play.Karen is understandably at home in this environment, having trained with Second City and performed with Improv Olympic and other troupes. After seven years of acting, she entered the field of network engineering. That background—improv actor and businesswoman—led her to the business idea for ImprovEdge LLC. She knew firsthand that the techniques and philosophy of improv had plenty to offer the business world. Along with co-founder, Frances Barney, Karen decided to make the leap—and ImprovEdge was born.
Today the company boasts 20 ensemble members in seven cities, serving businesses that understand the value of developing and investing in their people. They work in what Karen describes as a crazy—but fun—environment powered by that underlying philosophy of empathy and positive creativity. To learn more about this unique business venture, and about Karen’s take on a few things in life, read on:
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another woman?
Karen: Focus. My mentor and early supporter, Bev Bethge, founder of Ologie, told me to stick with my niche early on. We were enjoying some success, and suddenly a lot of people were telling us to go into all sorts of “profitable” areas. But then we wouldn’t have been ImprovEdge. Our mission is: Get unstuck. So, if what we are considering doesn’t help people communicate, behave and work differently, we don’t do it. What is your dream vacation? Karen:A currently unknown place in Tuscany that would satisfy the needs of my entire family simultaneously: access to arts performances and museums; shopping and an incredible spa for myself and my daughter; the finest restaurants, sports events, gym and video games for my husband and oldest son; and every amusement park ride and superhero character event ever dreamed of for the littlest one. And yes, I did say in Tuscany. Oh, and please throw in a beach and water-ski boat—we all like that!
What talent do you wish you had? Karen: Ball sports. I’m a dancer, swimmer and water skier, but I can’t play a sport involving a ball to save my life. What three things are in your handbag that you simply cannot do without? Karen: Gum, lipstick and my PDA!