University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School
“Greg creates a playful, open and safe environment through physical games and informal discussion to set up serious discussions and valuable takeaways. He asks students to make connections between play and ‘real life,’ to find serious nuggets within the silliness of his craft. His approach, one that is profoundly Socratic and lighthearted, involves getting them to question their assumptions about themselves, others, and situations. He encourages them to extend themselves to explore their expressive, creative, and collaborative potential. They are encouraged to discover what connections are possible through vulnerability.” – Sharon Cannon, Clinical Professor of Management and Corporate Communication
Greg Hohn, 59, is Clinical Assistant Professor of Management and Corporate Communication at University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School.
After developing his applied improv approach into a unique communications course, he began teaching it at UNC Kenan-Flagler in 2000. It is believed to be the first course of its kind taught at a business school, and he has won numerous teaching awards.
“He helps his students develop skills in communication, collaboration, creativity, listening and emotional intelligence. They learn to think on their feet and stay calm under pressure,” says Allison Adams, Director of Global Media Strategy at Kenan-Flagler.
“Even if they don’t feel confident in a stressful situation, Greg teaches them how to create an image of confidence. They learn to take risks and understand fear doesn’t necessarily correlate to danger.”
Hohn is the author of “Putting Improv to Work: Spontaneous Performance for Professional and Personal Life,” and has presented his program in academic, corporate, and organizational settings across the U.S. and in Canada and Sweden. Notable clients have included Microsoft, NYU, OglivyOne worldwide advertising, and Washington University in St. Louis.
At current institution since what year? 2000
Education: BA, English, UNC-Chapel Hill
List of Undergraduate courses you teach: Applied Improv and Business
TELL US ABOUT LIFE AS A BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR
I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I was offered the job. Yes, that sounds flippant but I had developed an applied-improv curriculum in the 1990s and was looking for a place to teach it. I had submitted proposals to a law school and a theater department but the UNC b-school was the one most interested.
What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? While I don’t conduct original research, I’m constantly looking for ways to deepen and support my teaching. Findings on embodiment, the idea that the way we behave physically affects our thoughts and feelings and isn’t merely an indicator of them, has bolstered what I’ve long taught but was only able to verify through personal experience, observation, and intuition.
My teaching has also been deeply influenced by what I’ve read about mirror neurons, physiological evidence that emotions are contagious. Again, we all know that but it’s so cool to learn about the neurological roots that affect individuals and society.
It’s not research per se, but my book “Putting Improv to Work: Spontaneous Performance for Professional and Personal Life” was published in 2022.
If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… I love teaching, so maybe I’d be a theater professor or corporate trainer. Or maybe I’d be a therapist or coach – both roles already find their way into my teaching. Or maybe I’d go back to full-time acting, which often winds up involving teaching.
What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I think I’m empathetic, curious, surprising and fun. I believe in my students and want to see them fulfilled and joyful, which is essentially my definition of success. My undergrad years were such an exhilarating time of intellectual and personal development, so I feel very fortunate to be part of that process for others.
One word that describes my first time teaching: Promising
Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: Businesspeople are people. Wait, that’s not what I wish someone had told me; that’s what I tell people when they’re cynical and snarky about business education. Then I tell them about courses in things like ethics, DEI and sustainable enterprise.
Professor I most admire and why: Daphne Athas (creative writing) and Darryl Gless (Shakespeare) were great teachers who opened my mind, simultaneously spurred and appreciated me, and became my friends.
TEACHING BUSINESS SCHOOL STUDENTS
What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? They are curious and driven.
What is most challenging? Their ambition can manifest in perfectionism.
In one word, describe your favorite type of student: Present
In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Cynical
When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Solomonic
LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
What are your hobbies? Bicycling (I’m a Cat 3 road racer and also commute and ride gravel and mountain bikes), motorcycle touring, running, hiking, travel, writing, reading, hanging out with kitties. As side gigs I run Actors Improv Theater, of which I’ve been a performing member since 1989, and am a jazz singer.
How will you spend your summer? Sweating
Favorite place(s) to vacation: I like to vacation in places with great natural beauty, cultural significance, friends, family or any combination thereof. My wife and I make regular pilgrimages to the Central Coast of California, Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and my home state of Minnesota, interspersed with other travel in and outside of the U.S.
Favorite book(s): The kind I don’t want to end, most recently “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles and “Simon’s Night by John Hassler”
What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? We just finished Ricky Gervais’s “After Life.” It’s not my favorite series of his but like in his best stuff, the hilarious and the profound walk hand in hand. I also love the way “Shtisel” celebrates the miraculous in the mundane.
What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? My musical tastes are very wide and varied but I suppose I’m a jazz person. It combines so many cultural influences and can take so many forms that it’s almost impossible to define. I take pride in finding jazz they like for people who say they don’t like jazz.
THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Sustainability and collaboration. The call for growth is seemingly unceasing but we must find new ways of growing that aren’t exploitative of people and planet. We can lead the way in that. We must.
In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… defining success by the Triple Bottom Line. There is progress in this area but there there’s so much room for improvement.
I’m grateful for… finding this career and having the supportive colleagues and school that have made it possible. I improvised a career in improv but I certainly didn’t do it alone.
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