Category Archives: Learning

Improvisation – Finding Flow

‘The thing about improvisation is that it’s not about what you say. It’s listening to what other people say. It’s about what you hear.’ Paul Merton

‘If you’re in your head, then you’re not here with me.’ Susan Messing

‘If you stumble, make it part of the dance’ Unknown

I have just spent an engrossing weekend listening, learning, experimenting and playing with The Improvisation Academy at The Poor School near King’s Cross, London. Before I go any further, I want to write a huge thank you to Carole and Keira for so generously giving me the time to fit this experience into the diary.

Most of what we do in life plays out without a script, yet we often believe we should somehow exercise more control over this unscripted life. I was keen to attend this course for many reasons, including to practice being in the moment, and responding more freely to what happens around me. In my work, I prefer to facilitate with as light a structure or agenda as possible – leaving room for things to emerge and grow. On this course, I thought I would experience and learn things that would help me enhance my professional practice, and I was right, but there was much more than that to be experienced.

The two days were packed with activities, reflection and conversation. Time passed a bit like pages in a book being turned – there was a flowing cadence to how we worked and we moved through things without hurrying unduly. Everything was explained clearly as we went along, and as a group we quickly became supportive of one another. A sufficient level of support is essential when uncertainty is close by. I want to respect the confidentiality established in the room over the two days, so I shan’t be going into specific details about the work we did together, and I will share some key points I observed and practiced, and a little of how I felt as the time passed. I will frame these notes with the help of the acrostic we were introduced to as we worked.

LIFEPASS

Let Go – Having, finding and borrowing the confidence to try something new. At all times we had the option to pass on an activity without anyone questioning why. The pass was used only very occasionally over the weekend. I noticed that activities which came back to me very quickly depleted my ability to improvise, which then bunged up my brain and interrupted flow between me and others – so once or twice, I took a pass midway through an activity.

Inhabit the Moment – The idea of being present, of finding flow. Acknowledging this state is important, and moving into it felt essential in order to do our best work. We talked about, and practised being aware of the challenge you face and the support available, and adjusting the dials to try and gain and sustain flow, while you can.

Flow Diagram

Freedom within Structure – There is a sense that improvisation is somehow chaos, and while it might be from time to time, it is not founded on, nor does it rely on chaos to succeed. There are principles and signposts you can choose to help you navigate your way through dialogue. A well known principle is the idea of ‘Yes…and’ where you accept someone’s offer and build on it, rather than reject it and start again.

Embrace Uncertainty – The degree to which the group together, and you individually, can alleviate the pressure caused by the uncertainty which inhabits us all, is really important. Over the weekend, I observed three things in particular that helped me.

  • There is something so powerful about a smile, an exchange of kindness between people which can represent trust. Looking out for each other.
  • The art of listening is crucial. I noticed that when I was listening most carefully, I became more able to engage with the process. The art of listening distracts you from trying to think about what you think you should be saying next. And given that none of us can predict what other people are going to say next, this is a helpful distraction!
  • There is something important when improvising about being able to place yourself in the space that exists between you and others, not inside your head. The action is in the interaction. For me this part of the process is very much a work in progress.

Play to Play – Play at work gets a bad rap, probably because when we think of play in a work context, we think of playing to win, which is often a zero sum game. I win, you lose. People think that work and play are opposites, when according to the play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith, the opposite of play is not work, but depression. If we accept what Sutton-Smith puts forward, then I think we need to have play at work. So how about playing to play, and playing to learn as well as, and at times instead of, playing to win.

Accept and Build – I take something you offer me, and I add to it.

Short Turn Taking – Helps to keep the flow going.

Spot Successes – Call them out, and help others to look good.

This was an intensive, and enjoyable two days, focussing primarily on improv skills for life. I was exhausted when I got home on Saturday evening and went to bed at nine thirty for some well earned rest. The second day was energetic and intensive too and though I was awake and alert, I got stuck a few times; I already mentioned I took a pass on a few occasions. There was a lot more to be learned and practiced than I first imagined and I go back again in April for another full weekend – this time to focus on improv for work. I am really looking forward to extending and practicing what I am learning, and based on my experience, I would encourage others interested in bringing more fluidity, flow and freedom to their work, to take a deeper dive into what improvisation has to offer. Great learning, great fun.

100 Happy Days – An Exploration of Happiness

A friend recently shared a link to the 100 Happy Days website. I curiously clicked on through and learned that 100 Happy Days is simply a voluntary challenge to share a photo every day for (you guessed it) 100 days. The photo has to connect with something that made you feel happy on that day. Simple enough – though the website says that 71% of people who embark on this journey don’t make it to the finish. I’ve been looking for a couple of new, regular habits to explore – so I signed up.

For the record, I have mixed feelings about happiness. I often find it occurs unexpectedly, and that chasing it is a bit like the just out of reach impossibility of trying to recapture that first heroin high, probably. I’ve not tried heroin so I can’t be sure about that, but I do know that like a lot of people – I’m fond of being grumpy from time to time too. Will I be able to cope with 100 Happy Days? According to the website, people successfully completing the challenge claimed to:

– Start noticing what makes them happy every day;
– Be in a better mood every day;
– Start receiving more compliments from other people;
– Realize how lucky they are to have the life they have;
– Become more optimistic;
– Fall in love during the challenge.

What’s not to like about that lot?

I’ve just completed day thirteen of this experiment and when I started, I thought I’d wait for some of that grumpiness I mentioned earlier to hit me before sharing my initial thoughts. Having experienced a wobble on my happiness perch during Day Thirteen, what am I noticing so far?

  • Happiness is indeed elusive, and when found, best left to purr quietly in the background. Don’t make a fuss or it’s likely to move on again.
  • Experiences trump things.
  • Family and friends – when they’re happy, you are more likely to be too.
  • Belgian Beer is lovely, but on a Monday night, maybe not so much.

When I started this experiment I did so unsure that I would even make it this far. Day Fourteen is here and so am I. If any of the pictures intrigue you enough for you to want to know more – let me know. And if you are looking for something little to do for the next 100 days, maybe you’d like to try this too?

 

Update: I successfully completed the 100HappyDays experiment.

Sometimes I Just Forget To Look

Burnt Crumpets

Tuesday morning started in a less than ideal fashion. I got up early to attend a breakfast meeting in London and thought I’d make some fruit smoothie to share at the meeting. I was in a rush, long story short, I completely ruined our smoothie maker (more haste less speed). Next I burned the breakfast crumpets (pay attention 007) before checking online to find out that trains into London were delayed and cancelled because of local electrical supply problems. I was frustrated (putting it politely).

Once I knew the London thing wasn’t going to happen I offered to take Keira to the train station for her journey to school (heading away from London). The delays there were just as bad, so I gave Keira a lift to school.

On the way to school we talked, sang and laughed, and agreed that the silver lining of these minor morning misfortunes, was some excellent time together. The smile Keira gave me as we parted stayed with me all day, a day which turned out to be great fun and very productive.

You choose your own attitude, and I often forget to look in the right place before choosing.

Thanks Keira.

Wednesday evening after dinner we each opened a fortune cookie – they were leftover from a recent trip to the Chinatown district in Manchester.

Carole’s read: Each failure takes you closer to success
Keira’s read: You have an important new business development shaping up
Mine read: Bless others with kindness and you shall be blessed.

Later that night, just before I went to bed I received an email from The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) rejecting my proposal to speak at their 2015 conference in Las Vegas:

Dear Doug:

Thank you for submitting a presentation proposal for the SHRM® Annual Conference & Exposition being held June 28 – July 1, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Each proposal was given careful and deliberate consideration. We strive to offer a balanced program of educational sessions at the conference and select the proposals that best fit the overall programming framework of the conference. Please understand that we receive many proposals with several on the same topic. Exceptional proposals are turned away each year for the simple reason that we have limited speaking slots. Your proposal for The Art of Collaboration was not selected this year. However, your interest in offering your skills, background and knowledge is greatly appreciated.

Once again, thank you for your submission.
Sincerely,

Letty Kluttz, SPHR, MBA
Director, Conference Programming and Development

Truthfully – although I was a little disappointed to get the Dear John – on reflection I was more frustrated about the crumpets than I was about getting this note. Maybe Tuesday morning’s breakfast hunger was stronger than the hunger to speak at SHRM National? I don’t know – but I do know that this Thursday morning brings another day full of failure and success, business development and blessing. Today I’m looking in the right place – I hope you are too. Have a great day.