What I Learned From What Google Learned

I recently revisited research Google has been engaged in with their employees over the last few years. Contrary to what one might expect from the tech giant and 21st century conventional wisdom (“learn to code!”), their findings were that the top characteristics of success are all “soft skills.

Interestingly, but not at all surprising, the findings of Google’s multi-year Project Aristotle supports why corporate executives, scientists, and leaders in multiple industries have turned to improvisational training.

A few excerpts from an article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine before the study was completed: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

…the good teams … were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues.

Google’s data indicated that psychological safety, more than anything else, was critical to making a team work.

In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.

As an applied improvisational facilitator and trainer, revisiting Google’s findings generated this list of the top attributes of a good improviser:

  • Learn to say “yes, and” in order to build with the contribution of others.
  • Find your way to collaboration, rather than disagreement.
  • Make others look good; build trust and a safe environment so people can take risks and develop new capabilities.
  • Actively listen, be present and sensitive to nonverbal cues.
  • Celebrate mistakes (in order to create a culture of learning and innovation).

Re-reading Google’s findings shed light on why recent trainings with undergraduates and graduate students that I’ve conducted via Career Services, have been so rewarding. Arming young people who are entering the workforce with the tools of improv and performance means that they will, indeed, become our leaders of tomorrow.