The Rapidian

GROW participant uses improvisation in business settings

Former GROW participant, board member and president Mary Jane Pories has taken what she learned from the classroom to uphold Fishladder Inc., an innovative business for the past 13 years.
A group practices improv to help them overcome future challenges

A group practices improv to help them overcome future challenges /courtesy of Fishladder Inc.

Underwriting support from:
Mary Jane Pories, President of Fishladder Inc.

Mary Jane Pories, President of Fishladder Inc. /courtesy of Fishladder Inc.

/courtesy of Fishladder Inc.

Mary Jane Pories knew she was an educator and she knew she was creative. When she felt a particular need within the business community around her, Pories took a leap and founded Fishladdder Inc., a business that teaches other businesses and organizations how to use improvisation- otherwise known as improv- to achieve results in their work settings.

Pories turned to Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) in 1999 for answers to the questions she had about starting her own business.

“I was told that in order to start my own business I would need a business plan. At that point I didn’t even understand what a business plan was,” says Pories. “I think that GROW is the number one reason Fishladder still exists today.”

Pories learned about marketing, leadership, pricing and the hiring process through Mind Your Own Business, a class offered by GROW. Pories was then asked to teach a few Mind Your Own Business classes, and she later served on the board and made her way to president.

“In the end, you still have to go out there, do the work and make mistakes, but the mentoring and instruction I got was huge,” says Pories.

Thirteen years later, Fishladder Inc. is a successful business that uses the art of improvisation to help corporations, non-profits and other organizations meet objectives and obtain desired outcomes. Coaching, training and workshops make up Fishladder’s business system.

Pories meets with clients individuall and in groups to determine specific skills that participants want to work on. If a participant wishes to gain a promotion, work overseas or simply break out of their shell, Pories can help by setting a plan of action.

"Suppose you work in an office setting, and your phone rings and it's a last minute change in the supply chain. It's up to you to decide how to go about it. You need to know how to think on your feet and make what you feel is the best decision and feel confident about it," Pories says.

According to Pories, improvisation is a learned skill. Once it is understood, individuals are able to open up, think on their feet and work as a team while meeting personal goals. There is a common misconception, she says, that improv equals comedy.

Fishladder’s techniques are unconventional and there is little competition in the area. Pories says the teaching and learning style is different and engaging, which makes her approach work.

“We have a lot of different types of learning styles. We learn some by lecture, we learn some by observation, but we make the biggest change when somebody asks us to do something,” she says. “It’s fun; it’s engaging. People are up on their feet doing something they thought they could never do and it makes an impact on business, teams and innovation really fast.”

The journey has provided some struggles for Fishladder. Pories has taken each difficulty to heart in order to learn from it.

“Business is about having to make hard decisions,” she says. “GROW taught me that if you are going to be in business, you have to think of the business first. Which means you are not making decisions based on what is fun and what feels good. It’s that you have to protect the business first and foremost.”

This may mean having to give up one dream in order to pursue another, explains Pories, who had dreamed of starting her own theater.

Through the struggles, Pories has found passion in Fishladder. She considers herself to be a lifelong learner and finds joy in continuing to grow mentally along with her clients.

“I like it that I keep learning- that people have insights that haven’t occurred to me. I can continually find ways to learn and in turn articulate to and teach more people,” Pories says. “Plus, the fact that we are still here and still growing and still doing well, that feels pretty good.”

While growth in Fishladder Inc. is predicted, Pories doesn’t want the thought of expansion to block her original goal of trying to sincerely help people and the companies they work for.

“I don’t have any desire to be big or famous. Money is not my biggest motivator. It seems like the typical American way is to want to expand and get bigger, but that has not been the driver for me,” Pories says. “It is an honor to have to opportunity to change lives and to learn along with people.”

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