Can Improv Contribute to Personal and Professional Growth?
Tell us about yourself, your career, and what you’re pursuing at Kellogg.
Aishwarya: I’m a Second-Year director on the WBA leadership team, aligned with the Personal Development Committee. I started my career in investment banking at UBS before pivoting into a data-for-good start-up, called SocialCops. At SocialCops, I led teams of data scientists, analysts and engineers to help clients in government, non-profits, and multinational corporations use data to drive better social and business outcomes. Post Kellogg, I plan to join McKinsey as a consultant in the Chicago office.
Shanna: I’m the vice president of Personal Development for WBA. Prior to Kellogg, I worked as a consultant at Deloitte, focusing on customer and employee experience and working across the public sector, retail, energy, and financial services industries. During my last two years at Deloitte, I pivoted to specialize in diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, which allowed me to infuse my passion for helping people thrive and realize their best potential into my daily work. I’m continuing to realize this passion at Kellogg, not only through the Personal Development Committee, but also by co-founding a mental health startup, bekome, that helps young adults find their best-fit mental health care.
Tell us about Reflections Through Improv — why did you create this opportunity and what can participants expect from this event?
Our mission as WBA’s Personal Development Committee is to create opportunities for women to develop skills and perspectives that they need to become their best selves, while empowering each other in this journey. In crafting this journey for women at Kellogg, we challenged ourselves to think out of the box and create opportunities for personal development that were unique, fun and interactive.
For those who may not know, improv is short for improvisation. It’s spontaneous ensemble theatre. It is an art form where the performers make up the theatre, usually comedy, on the spot.
We hosted our improv reflections workshop early in the school year to set the tone for reflection and introspection, and to create an early sense of community among women at Kellogg. This event was designed to use improvisation as a tool to build awareness of mental habits and to find patterns in behavior. Each improv activity was followed by reflection time in which we encouraged participants to introspect on how they felt during the exercise, and how that relates to how they show up in personal and professional settings. After individual reflection exercises, participants shared their reflections in small groups — and we adopted the improv principle of “yes, and” to ensure deep and empathetic listening.
The programming of the event was developed to encourage vulnerability among the participants and create a safe space for sharing personal stories. We started with an ice-breaker exercise to get the group moving, and quickly transitioned into the first improv activity, “I am a tree.” In this activity, participants stand around a circle, and build a story beat-by-beat. The objective of this activity was to help participants experience building on offers made by others — and reflect on the emotions they experience in the process. After our reflection exercise and share-outs, we went on to a storytelling exercise in which all participants shared a story of a time when they were faced with an obstacle that felt insurmountable, and took their peers along for the climb.
How do you hope this event will impact women business leaders?
We hoped to leave all participants with two key takeaways: one, developing self awareness through active reflections can help them understand their values, needs and strengths better, which in turn helps them show up more authentically in personal and professional settings; and two, recognizing the power of the community of women from diverse backgrounds, identities and perspectives at Kellogg that can truly be the wind underneath their wings.
Improvisation is a powerful tool to develop awareness of habits and patterns, and following up an improv exercise with reflections on how you experienced it — and understanding how others experienced it differently — can provide invaluable insights and help with personal and professional development. We hope that this event was a stepping stone towards great emotional intelligence and self awareness for all participants.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Organizers and participants alike talked about how grounding and refreshing this event turned out to be. We were outdoors by the lake on a warm, sunny Sunday evening, which aided our ability to reflect! We also spent time after the event talking about how this experience helped us feel connected to each other and feel ready to tackle impending Sunday scaries!
We’re excited to potentially turn this into a series of events where we may focus on different styles of improvisation and targeting various outcomes like “identifying different psychological defenses” or “mind-body synchronization.”