You’ll be remiss to pigeonhole Brave New Workshop as solely a comedy theater; BNW’s business scope is always adapting to change, providing inspired solutions based on need. “People won’t do their research on the whole company and they’ll say: The Brave New Workshop Theater does corporate workshops,” says John Sweeney, co-owner of Brave New Workshop. “That’s not true.” Sure, satirical and improvisational comedy theater is where BNW started. As a self-funding theater, which is rare for most art organizations, Sweeney had to get creative in the early 2000s when a third of theaters in town were closing due to a rising popularity of the Internet/DVDs and a reduction in grant money available. Sweeney saw a connection between comedic improvisation and the workplace and capitalized on it.
Enter BNW’s Creative Outreach, a corporate speaking and training company based on its improvisational foundation. Improvisers occupy a “mindset of discovery” in order to collaborate on stage; if employees were to adopt this same mindset by practicing five specific behaviors (listening, deferring judgement, reframing, declaring and jumping in), the result would be a more productive work environment.
“At any given moment in our lives, we are in a mindset. The drastic ends of the spectrum would be fear or discovery,” says Sweeney, who notes that we are somewhere in between the two at any given moment. “The brain doesn’t like new things very much. Its first decision is to protect itself. That’s why it has the tendency to live in the mindset of fear,” Sweeney says, asserting that it’s possible to retrain your brain with practice. “It’s almost athletic in nature.”
Open Gym, BNW’s newest venture that started in the beginning of this year, is precisely the place to practice behaviors in order to maintain what Sweeney calls a consistent mindset. Elena Imaretska, vice president of strategy, new products, partnerships, sustainability, agrees: “You can’t change behavior just on the one-off experience. You have to continue to practice it.”
Sweeney and Imaretska recently co-authored a book based on the Creative Outreach’s curriculum— The Innovation Mindset: 5 Behaviors for Accelerating Breakthroughs—that treats innovation as a set of behaviors to practice, rather than a theory or corporate initiative. Anyone can attend Open Gym’s drop-in sessions for group- and game-based exercises, all vetted and tested in BNW’s school.
The “yes, and” culture at BNW, as described in The Innovation Mindset, is core to the company’s successes. “‘Yes’ means that we accepted the current moment as valid and ‘and’ means we’re gonna build on it,” says Sweeney. “Now it doesn’t mean we have to agree with it. It means we’ve committed to move forward.”
Brave New Workshop’s Experimental Thinking Centre (ETC) can be rented out, accommodating up to 230 people in a variety of settings. Meetings can be customized, or BNW Creative Outreach offers a selection of Special Packages, including a keynote from Sweeney or interactive training sessions.