When I first stepped on an improv stage for a highschool ComedySportz league, I knew that I had found something important. For someone like me who is a inveterate thinker and a planner, this environment provided a way to get out of my own way and let my mind and imagination run free.
Even though I never pursued improv to its full extant, I’ve always stayed in touch with it, attending classes here and there over the years and going to see shows when I could. I picked up Improv Wisdom because of a recommendation in Dan Pink’s To Sell is Human. The title caught my eye. And it was well worth the read!
“Life is an improvisation…Here is the password – it is yes! Understanding the power of yes is easy; practicing that acceptance and affirmation in daily life becomes our challenge.” (pg 150)
Ideas, Implications, and Questions
- In her chapter on the maxim “Don’t Prepare”, Patricia mentions an improv game that involved unwrapping an imaginary box to “see” what is inside. It reminded me of my favorite game that we would play on my high school team. One person would unwrap an imaginary box and look inside, describing the box and its contents. A partner would keep saying “no, it’s not” to force the person to cycle through all of their preconceived ideas. Then the partner would say “yes” when the person was obviously being completely spontaneous. The spontaneous answers would usually be more interesting, out-there, and creative than any planned responses. It’s a good reminder to me that creativity should be spontaneous.
- Patricia writes, “The notion that there is such a thing as a proper beginning, and the search to find that ideal starting point, robs us of time.” (pg 53) At the same time I was reading this I was listening to a lecture series on physics where it was pointed out that Einsteinian relativity was powerful because it proved that every frame of reference was a valid for physics. We humans think that there is some special circumstance that must be met before we can start, and it’s just not true. I try to remember that when I have an idea for a new article, book, product, or adventure.The notion that there is a proper beginning, and the search to find that ideal starting point, robs us of time
- Many people, current company including, often get caught in the trap of thinking that improv has to be funny or clever. I like that Patricia points out that the attempt to be clever often fails, and that it’s more important to be in the moment and paying attention to how to best respond to a situation. “Don’t make jokes, make sense.” (pg 66) Ironically, when you stop trying to be funny, you often find the real humor.
- I think one of the most powerful practical benefits of an improviser’s approach is that it provides a framework for responding to life. You don’t have to have all of the answers, you simply have to show up and respond in an affirmative manner. This helps because there are so many variables in life that pre-planning doesn’t really work. You can’t have an approach that takes into account every possibility. When talking about Alan Watts, she writes, “He knew that life is all about balancing, not about being balanced.” (pg 81)
- When talking about the maxim “Take Care of Each Other”, she shares the concept of shared control. An improviser is responsible for making everyone else on stage look good and for making sure the scene is moving forward. It’s not even about taking turns being in charge, but rather an almost instantaneous give and take. What if a start-up or small business was filled with people who had that approach? What would happen if the employees of a large company had that approach (and management wasn’t afraid of it)?
Who should read this book?
I could go through the many other ideas that resonated in Improv Wisdom, but when I was done, I’d basically have the whole book written out again. Just go read it, especially if you are:
- An actor, singer, speaker, or anyone else who makes their living performing for and with others.
- In sales. I firmly believe that great sales people share many of the characteristics of great improvisers. A good sales script helps, but you have to know how to deal with the infinite variables that can pop up in working with others.
- An entrepreneur or small business owner. When you are building a business, you are engaging in improvisation daily. What’s more, connecting with the skills and abilities that are developed in the improv world will help you connect with your creativity.