I spent most of last night … until 1am in fact … devouring some new and old readings on applied improvisation. I purchased Robert Poynton’s new Do Lectures book – Improvise and dusted off a whole bunch of Group Work activities that joyfully immerse people in purposeful play. I feel like I have re discovered an old friend. I know that my application of activities from the Applied Improv world have, at times, missed the mark. But mostly, they have connected and supported groups to discover new ways of working, leading, collaborating and simply being with each other.
Last night on the tram I was approached by a middle aged lady who had been in a workshop I facilitated 3 years ago. I remembered her and she thanked me for playing an improv game called One Word Story with her team of about 25 people. She then told me how her team used the Improv principles of ‘Let-Go’, ‘YesAnd’ and ‘Notice More’ changed the course of their strategy. By applying these principles to their stakeholder engagement and collaboration, she said that their relationships with external organisations transformed. As a result their work found a new level and they managed to find new ways of approaching complex challenges. Moments like these are rare and she left me questioning myself … “Why have I stopped bringing principles and practices of Improvisation to my own group work?”
Note to self … time to re discover my love and application for Improvisation!
About 3 years ago I received a beautiful gift from Gary Hirsch of On Your Feet. It was (and still is) a Bot … a hand painted monster on the back of a domino. Gary creates thousands of these things and his obsession for sharing (and letting go) of his BotJoy art has gone places.
Back in 2010, I had a the pleasure of spending 3 days with Gary and a couple of hundred other improvisors in Portland, Oregon at the Applied Improvisation Network (AIN) annual conference. Viv McWaters introduced me to joy of Improvisation some years before and it was at Portland that my love for all things Improvisation was born.
4 years on, I stumble upon a Tedx-Portland talk by Gary Hirsch on the topic of collaboration. Given I know Gary and I have a Bot I had to watch him teach and perform. Enjoy!
As Russell, Suzie and myself have been exploring the essence of what our Rusty Brown collaboration is all about, we often view our offering through the lens of living systems. A conversation yesterday reminded me of a short piece I wrote for a session that I facilitated at the Thriving In Uncertainty conference in Melbourne 2 years ago …
If we embrace the idea that an organisation is a living ecosystem, rather than a mechanistic model, how would we work with that larger consciousness? Paul Plsek likens this difference to that between throwing a stone and throwing a live bird (1). The trajectory of the stone can be calculated precisely using the mechanical laws of physics. The trajectory of the bird is emergent and far less predictable! The question is whether we can genuinely embrace this shift in perspective and add a layer of living tissue to the organisational machine.
The good news is that we don’t need to abandon everything we currently do. When dealing with technical problems, we still need efficient management, expertise and best practice processes. But on their own, rational, linear and individually-generated solutions are not up to the task. It’s not enough to just bring our brains to work. We need to access and apply our whole intelligence to problem-solving, creativity and innovation, especially in the complexity of global, local social and environmental issues.
Applied Improvisation is at the heart of our offering at Rusty Brown and we know that improvisation is a key driver for business and organisational success during times of uncertainty and change. Ironically, we all know how to improvise, but most of us spend too much time planning and never get to the improvisation part. And when you look at the cutting edge of business today, the most pioneering and successful companies are moving in exactly that direction. Their leaders know that innovation comes from a careful balance of planning and improvisation. By applying improv, their people are cultivating strong relationships and are being creative with limited resources. These organisations are deeply fulfilling to work with, enrich the communities they serve and are able to thrive in uncertainty.
Since being introduced to Applied Improv 7 years ago, it’s principles have reshaped the way I facilitate, consult, parent and live life. In practice, applying improv has connected me to a deeper self, an authentic part of me that I never knew existed.