Improvisational Self-Directed Learning: Leveraging Psychological Capital and Exercising Human Agency

Improvisational Self-Directed Learning: Leveraging Psychological Capital and Exercising Human Agency

Sharon E. Norris (Spring Arbor University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3132-6.ch004
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Contemporary organizations are characterized as complex and continually changing as a result of global competition, technological advances, and fluctuating consumer expectations. Flourishing within continually changing environments requires professionals with the capacity to thrive within a dynamic context. Developing the capacity to think and act quickly is important and doing so with competency and character is paramount. Becoming an effective organizational professional requires proficiency in improvisational self-direct learning. Improvisational self-directed learning describes people who can solve novel and surprising problems, create value from fortuitous events, and take action without preplanning. The exercise of human agency, bolstered by strong psychological capital, which includes self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resilience, is presented as the foundation for self-directed improvisational learning.
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Various researchers have used improvisation in music and theatre as a metaphor to describe organizational behavior (e.g., Barrett, 2012; Dupree, 1992). In order to glean valuable insights about the nature of improvisational behavior in organizations, Weick (1998) argues it is important to understand the process of improvisation, which “works without a prior stipulation, it works with the unexpected” (p. 544). Improvisational behavior is spontaneous, novel, and creates something new; there is a sense that improvisation occurs in the spur of the moment, using intuition, and with on-the-spot spontaneity (Weick, 1998). Tyler and Tyler (1990) describe improvisation as action taken without foresight, without pre-planning, and without control of the present or future. Berliner (1994) states, “Improvisation involves reworking precomposed material and designs in relations to unanticipated ideas conceived, shaped, and transformed under the special conditions of performance, thereby adding unique features to every creation” (p. 241).

People draw on pre-existing skills and prior knowledge when improvising (Berliner, 1994; Metcalf, 1986; Moorman & Minor, 1998). According to Weick (1998), “improvisation does not materialize out of thin air” (p. 546). Improvisation emerges out of activities that are controlled but not predetermined (Mangham & Pye, 1991). The rules and routines that are preestablished and well rehearsed in an organization provide a foundation upon which individuals and groups effectively engage in improvisational behavior (Vera & Crossan, 2005). The connected themes of order and improvisation (Weick, 1998) underscore the value of prior routines and prior knowledge on improvisational behavior and processes (Eisenhardt & Tabrizi, 1995; Hatch, 1997; Weick, 1993, 1996). Yet, if these organizational rules and routines, like prearranged music, block learning, they can be detrimental to the development of improvisational behavior (Barrett, 2012). Improvisational behavior occurs as people “explore the very edge of their comfort zone, to stretch their learning into new and different areas” (Barrett, 2012, p. xi).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Hope: The willpower and the waypower drawn upon to achieve goals.

Improvisation: A spontaneous and creative process used to achieve goals.

Improvisational Learning: Learning that occurs through engagement in improvisational behaviors.

Psychological Capital: Positive and state-like characteristic including self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resiliency.

Optimism: The positive explanatory style that focuses on obstacles or problems as temporary and conditions as changeable.

Resiliency: The capacity to bounce back after a setback while on the path toward goal attainment.

Self-Efficacy: Personal belief in one’s capacity to perform a task or achieve goals.

Human Agency: The exercise of control over one’s thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.

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