Improv Radical Candor

How to Make Learning to Have Effective Feedback Conversations Fun

Every once in a while, if you’re lucky, you get to work on something that is so fun you can’t believe it’s work. For me, collaborating with my team and the folks at Second City Works to create a workplace comedy series, The Feedback Loop, was one of those experiences. Not only was it fun for me, it will make feedback conversations fun for everyone.

Since Radical Candor was published, my team and I have been working hard to figure out the best ways to help teams put the ideas into practice in a way that scales but still feels human. It’s so easy to say, “Be radically candid,” and so hard to actually do it.

One of the things that people liked about the book was that I broke it down into some practical suggestions, but I think I didn’t break it down quite far enough. So how can we learn how to practice this? What’s the best way to practice?

Make Feedback Conversations Fun

Feedback conversations

“We learn when we laugh,” Kelly Leonard of Second City Works said to me one day. And that was the start of Improvising Radical Candor, a whole new way to think about how to teach managers, both first time managers and seasoned CEOs, to handle the human drama associated with the job was born.

One of the learning challenges we were trying to address was that nobody really likes to role play. Because in some ways a role play is like asking somebody to play in a symphony before they’ve learned the instrument; or to play in a scrimmage before you’ve learned how to throw the ball. And so it became clear that improv has a bunch of drills that can help you learn the discrete skills that you need in order to be radically candid.

For example, one of the things that got tweeted a lot from the book was the idea that you need to, “Listen with the intent to understand, not to respond.” (Which originally came from Stephen Covey!).

How can you practice that kind of listening? Most of us are listening for the moment when we can jump into the conversation and show the other person how smart we are. Can we actually teach people to listen for understanding? That’s one of the things that improvisers do all the time.

What does comedy have to do with feedback conversations?

Feedback conversations

There’s research that supports this idea that laughter is an incredibly effective way to learn and for messages to really sink in. Radical Candor is the very stuff of human drama and human relationships. While it’s easier to be funny when you’re getting Radical Candor wrong — what I like to call Radical Candor wipe-outs — even when you’re getting it right, it can be quite funny.

We also wanted The Feedback Loop to help people distinguish between what’s Radical Candor — being kind and clear — and what’s not; for example, what’s actually Obnoxious Aggression, or basically just acting like a jerk. And all the different ways we try to get Radical Candor right, but we accidentally get it wrong. I think this show manages to do that, and thanks to the hilarious cast, including David Alan Grier, you’re laughing as you’re learning.

Improvising Radical Candor is not your grandfather’s management training. It’s a comedy series you can binge watch with your team. Then, you can go back and watch it, an episode a week, using the exercises in Playbook that comes along with the sitcom to start to build a habit of Radical Candor. All of this can be done virtually or, when the current crisis is over, as a group.

On April 2 we hosted a virtual world premiere of The Feedback Loop with attendees from all over the world. We were planning for a red carpet, but improvised with a shared Zoom experience.

So, can feedback actually be fun? Here’s some of what the folks attending had to say in the chat:

“This is genuinely entertaining. I’d watch this as a TV show.”

“This is a mix of The Office + Brooklyn 99 + The Good Place.”

“This was awesome!! David Alan Grier was a nice touch.”

“Very well done and extremely helpful … a way better way to train people.”

“I haven’t enjoyed myself in such a long time. This was a job well done.”

“This was outstanding! This takes experiential learning to another level.”

“Fantastic way to demonstrate the Radical Candor concepts in realistic situations!”

Want to watch The Feedback Loop? Get it for yourself, or for your team.

Kim Scott is the author of Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and Radical Respect: How to Work Together Better and co-founder of Radical Candor, a company that helps people put the ideas in her books into practice. Kim was a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter and other tech companies. She was a member of the faculty at Apple University and before that led AdSense YouTube, and DoubleClick teams at Google. She's also managed a pediatric clinic in Kosovo and started a diamond-cutting factory in Moscow. She lives with her family in Silicon Valley.