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This much I've learned: Pete Markey

TSB Bank's CMO shares lessons learned from the world of improv comedy

It was just your average Wednesday evening.

Nervous attendees of an antenatal class being advised by a highly nervous junior midwife keen to impress. Or was it? The scene featured four improv performers who seconds before hand had discovered the scene then had to act out, with no script, no props and no sense of where the scene would go.

Learning to do improvised comedy over the past six months for me has been a voyage of rediscovering the lost art of improvisation in life and in business. Each week I am learning new skills, working with great people at Dingbats Improv, helped by the brilliant Ed Pithie (our Jedi Master in Improv).

Improvised comedy is an art in working with others from pairs to groups of 4 or more acting out scenes or moments completely unscripted. This is the art of thinking on your feet, under pressure and working together to deliver something great. As well as being a midwife, my recent “roles” have included a baker, knight, surgeon, astronaut and alien – not bad for a boy from Surrey.

Improvised comedy as a skill has grown in popularity over the past few years with rave reviews in the Harvard Business Review, The Guardian and many other online articles that talk about the skills modern leaders need in order to succeed. These articles underline how improv helps bring new thinking into businesses and helps individuals and teams with their mental health and wellbeing and creative expression.

So often in our business lives we make decisions and get things done in a process like manner that often misses the opportunity for fresh and original thinking or a moment of improvisation. I’ve found this particularly true over my own career how its too easy to get into a comfortable rhythm of operating in a way that allows little or no room for improvisation or new thinking.

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For me as a marketer, we need to rediscover this lost art. Marketers should bring a unique skillset to a business. We are commercial, yet creative. We are project managers yet help shape new approaches and drive innovation. We are tasked to find break throughs in industries where established thinking has reached its natural end and we are tasked with bringing the latest in customer insight and thinking to the table. Marketers have a unique role to play.

I’ve found that learning improv has not only helped me in the lessons themselves (great fun, stretches your thinking and lots of laughs) but also at work too, where I’ve found more and more opportunities to bring new thinking to the table and to work better under pressure. I recently ran a session at our senior legal team’s away day to teach them some improv skills and it was great to see them experience the benefits for themselves first-hand!

Who knows, maybe this is the start of an improv revolution?

I’d recommend every marketer to try their hand at a skill like improv where they can learn to be their best under pressure and can think creatively on their feet. My challenge is that if marketers aren’t bringing this lost art back to business then who else is?

Businesses that want to succeed need marketers to step up to the plate and deliver and skills like improv help you do exactly that…


My key lessons for marketers from improvised comedy:

Be creative – if you’re not then who else in the business is?
Be present – be creative “on your feet” in your thinking and approach
Don’t conform – you’re hired for a unique skillset not to blend in
Build on ideas – listen and cultivate the best ideas and new thinking
Bring breakthrough – Be the one to bring the best, fresh ideas to the table


This article was taken from issue 1 of Marketing Society members-only publication EMPOWER. Find out more here and see past articles here (please note some articles are open to the public and some are for members only.)

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