The growing relevance of improvisation for successful organizing calls for a better understanding of how individuals develop improvisation skills. While research has investigated the role of training and simulations, little is known about how individuals develop improvisation skills when formal training is not an option and how individual-level factors shape development trajectories. We explore these issues in a longitudinal qualitative analysis of live action role-playing. Our findings reveal a three-stage process of improvisation development shaped by the presence of task and social structures, which act as both constraints and resources. Moreover, our findings illuminate how collaborative and competitive orientations shape whether improvisers perceive these structures as a resource that they need to nurture and renew (i.e., collaborative) or to seize and exploit (i.e., competitive). We also show that individual orientations are not always enduring but can change over time, engendering four types of improvisation development trajectories. Our work provides a longitudinal account of how individual orientations shape the process of improvisation development. In so doing, we also explain why individuals who are skilled improvisers do not necessarily improvise effectively as a collective, and we reconcile different conceptualizations of improvisation.
- live action role-playing