Silicon Valley’s Cure For Awkward Geeks? Improv

By Wendy Lee
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A talent for improv comedy is becoming a very special highly valued skill by many job seekers and entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. Some people are paying big bucks to take classes on the subject to learn how to to present, perform and think quickly on their feet.

San Francisco Chronicle

When Jun Liu signed up for a $12,000 training program, he expected to learn about raising money and marketing his idea for an entrepreneurship school in China.

It’s funny how things work out.

Last week, he found himself pretending to be a bow as another student portrayed a dead deer — all part of an improv lesson from Draper University, a San Mateo tech boot camp.

“It teaches me how to anticipate unpredictable things,” said Liu, 25, a native of Wuhan, China.

Improvisational comedy, long a vital skill for aspiring actors, is fast becoming a fixture of the technology world. Much as comedians perform on a stage, entrepreneurs must learn to think on their feet when pitching ideas to venture capitalists, fielding customers’ queries and supporting teammates. Plenty of companies, including Twitter, Facebook and data-storage firm EMC, provide improv training sessions for employees. Local improv groups report increased interest from tech firms.

“Listening skills and being able to guess and add to other people’s ideas — it’s almost become a lost art in technology because you have to be caught up with what’s going on in the computer,” said Diane Rachel, an instructor for Bats Improv, which is based in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center.

Former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo once performed at Chicago’s Annoyance Theatre and was known for his improv skills. His background helped spur voluntary improv trainings at Twitter that began in 2011. More recently, he has helped suggest lines for HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” which has gotten the tech industry to take itself a little less seriously. The charming gaffes of Richard Hendricks, the fictional founder of faux startup Pied Piper, has shown entrepreneurs that they can fumble their way to success.

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