Cultivating Improvisation Literacy

Empirical Research Project on Business Improvisation


  • Christophe Novak University of Vienna


Inspired by insights from the creative and performing arts, current research within the emerging field of improvisation studies has shown improvisation to be a skill that can be learnt. In a recent survey by Zenk et al., general principles of improvisation were extracted from the lived realities of leading experts for practical application in didactic formats aimed at teaching an improvisation mindset [1].

To determine how students learn or improve their ability to improvise, empirical research will be conducted in a five-day university course on Business Improvisation at the Danube University Krems from May 30 to June 3, 2022. While previous studies within the context of this course have focused on the perspective of teachers, this study concentrates on students’ experiences and how they receive and integrate the didactic models of organisational improvisation implemented by teachers. Results will evaluate students’ acquired improvisation skills and feed back into optimising these didactic models.

Data collection follows a qualitative approach that involves two empirical phases: Phase 1 focuses on participant observation (PO) of the course, which includes reflecting on personal experiences in the form of observation protocols and actively engaging with participants and lecturers along the lines of informal interviews. Phase 2 concentrates on generative depth interviews (GDI) with all participants, reflecting on individual experiences of the course and learning outcomes of acquired improvisational abilities. The GDI format blends semi- structured with open interview formats and involves the formulation of five core questions that provide an overarching frame of reference along which questions that organically arise from the dialogue will be aimed at uncovering underlying layers of meaning. Constructivist grounded theory (CGT) is applied for qualitative data analysis, following an inductive approach that involves text analysis of interviews from which new insights are generated.

As improvisation translates to competently dealing with the unforeseen, the ability to improvise is essential to meet the challenges of the 21st-century VUCA world, characterised by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Cultivating improvisation literacy thus has great relevance for leaders at the forefront of activities that require fast decision-making without full situational knowledge while under pressure for creative, intuitive and ultimately successful problem-solving.


[1] L. Zenk, N. Hynek, G. Schreder and G. Bottaro, “Toward a system model of improvisation”, Thinking Skills and Creativity, vol. 43, no. 100993, pp. 1–11, 2022. Available: /10.1016/j.tsc.2021.100993


Author Biography

Christophe Novak, University of Vienna

I am a student of the interdisciplinary Master Programme in Cognitive Science at the University of Vienna. 

I wrote my Bachelor Thesis in Social and Cultural Anthropology on the topic of creative emergence, exploring ecological principles of pattern formation within processes of creative self-expression. I have a background in classical music education and I'm an active musician playing drums, marimba and piano, composing and producing my own music. 

My academic and musical interest are deeply intertwined and have led me to this study program. I intend to continue this line of interest in my Master thesis by exploring embodied music improvisation and the codependent arising of mind and music mediated through loop-based polyrhythmic substrates. 

“Minding through Music” affords itself as a powerful epistemic device that might contribute to a deeper understanding of ecological principles underlying creative processes and improvisation, with potential contributions to the theory of ontological design and the modeling of enabling spaces.