Planning for the Unplanned: How Improvisation Will Benefit Your Business

Hilary Scott Gennaro

Aug 6, 2017

Wikipedia defines musical improvisation as: “the creative activity of immediate (‘in the moment’) musical composition, which combines performance with communication of emotions and instrumental technique as well as spontaneous response to other musicians.”

How can this type of immediate creativity help you hone your skills in your business whether or not you are a musician? Further, how can it help your clients?

Here are four ways to incorporate improvisation as a valuable tool to increase confidence, expand creativity, and grow your business.

1. Confidence Infusion

As a music instructor, I’ve seen improvisation make my students more confident in their abilities. In any sort of discipline, if a student begins to rely too heavily on a textbook, a set of rules, or a standard practice, they may feel blocked, or doubt their ability to truly understand the discipline they are learning.

Improvisation usually means making a few mistakes, but we learn from these mistakes, and also come to realize a mistake is not the end of the world, it’s another tool in our arsenal. Whether you’re learning an instrument or trying a new cooking technique, using what you already know to create something new, or venturing into uncharted territory — improvisation is a confidence booster.

It’s not only students who benefit from this “unpracticed practice” — no matter how advanced or knowledgeable you are at your particular discipline, you can grow through improvisation.

2. Overcome Obstacles

As a teacher, throwing away a structured lesson plan and improvising according to a student’s changing needs is imperative. What works for one student may not work for the next, and what works for a student for a certain period of time, may not work indefinitely.

That sounds simple but I know that, as one example, the pedagogy surrounding music instruction is very structured. It is simple to start to rely on the materials available rather than seeking creative ways to approach material. My best opportunities for improvisation have come when I meet a student with a particular challenge, or a particularly keen skill. I have one student who has both the challenge of having difficulty reading music, and the keen skill of learning quickly by ear. The standard music books don’t work as well for her, so I’ve improvised her lessons to include much more composition, rote learning, and ear training.

How can you build your business around each individual client’s needs? Sometimes planning doesn’t work, and “in the very moment” you come up against a challenge with a student or client, you must use your instincts and quickly change course. As with a musician who must listen to the ensemble members around her to decide which move to make next, you must listen to your clients, and also your own instincts. This can be a bit scary at first, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

3. Smash Boredom

In a simple sense, improvising means “making something new” or “making it up on the spot”. There is something incredibly exhilarating about acting, making decisions, and creating without a plan.

In theater, improvisation takes actors on a journey to build plot, character, action and dialogue, creating a story — in the moment — where once there was nothing. Real life is similarly unscripted. Improvisation will help hone your creative and critical thinking skills, as well as make you a better problem solver. Finding new ways to approach a subject or solve a problem with only the tools at hand can lead to innovation in your business, your art, and your life.

Ever decided on a whim to take a road trip with no real destination in mind? Opened the refrigerator and just made a meal with what was there? These are, of course, forms of improvisation, and they prevent us from getting bored with routine.

4. Be a Team Player

In music, improvisation requires intense listening both to yourself and other players to make sure you connect on a musical level. Sometimes what initially sounds like a “mistake” or aimless musical wandering, can result in a beautiful creation as the musicians begin to understand and adapt to what the others are doing.

In business, in teaching, in life — you can improvise with your connections. Seek out professional retreats, plan cooperative services with local organizations and businesses, offer a trade of services, and see what develops. Your business may take an unanticipated and beneficial direction.

Hilary Scott is an award-winning singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. She also teaches private music lessons on a little island nestled in the south Puget Sound. She and her music have been featured in publications such as Billboard, No Depression, Yahoo Music, Maverick and more. She is always working at improving her craft, expanding her business, and finding new ways to reach students and listeners. Learn more about her at or And you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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