Every year we perform an improvised Shakespearian show called "The Lost Folio". The idea behind "The Lost Folio" is that it is a play of William Shakespeare's that was lost in time. We recreate it live, with suggestions from the audience.
This year, I was reminded how fluid the English language has always been, and how many words, grammatical conventions, and idioms were in flux during Shakespeare's time. Due to the influence of new ideas and languages it was ever changing. When the complete works of Shakespeare were eventually published, many scholars believe that moment started to codify the English language, and set certain parts of it in stone.
In improv, one thing I have found is that codifying something, naming it and setting the rules, begins to make it stale. It now has edges - set perimeters - that keeps it reigned in and not fluid. For many new improvisers they get stuck on the rules and the question of "Am I doing this right?"
By codifying something, you stop the forward motion and arrest its development. When you stop a process by naming it, you no longer make it innovation.
When I speak with many business leaders, I ask them "What are hard and fast rules that you adhere to?" Sometimes looking at the assumptions and rules can help to find where we have blocked ourselves from innovation, and where we can open up to new ideas. Ask yourself "If this were all new, and the rules didn't apply, what would you be doing differently?"
So, as I perform in "The Lost Folio" this summer, I look forward to inventing some new words that are a mash-up of many languages, and having fun with a style of English that existed before we were stuck in the rules of grammar.
Contact Andrew to find out more about how to drive innovation in your organization.
There is one thing that separates good actors from struggling actors: How well do you listen?
In my work I get to interact with actors at all levels. A struggling actor knows their lines, and is pre-planning how they will react when they hear their scene partner say something. They are scripting (even if the play is improvised) how the story will come out, and how they will listen. There is a need to control what happens, and what the audience sees, rather than actually listening and being affected by what someone is giving you. In fact, you can actually see them trying to listen, as if listening is something to show people you are doing it. You can visually see them planning how they will respond, rather than listening and reacting.
The same is true for managers. I have worked with many managers who have a "listening face" which they use to "show" people they are listening. When asked to share what they just heard, their retention and understanding of what was said to them is appallingly low. And just like with actors, employees can see when you are not listening to them. They can see when you're merely waiting for their mouth to move so you can speak. They can see when you have disengaged because you have already solved the problem you think they have (even if you are not sure what the problem actually is, or if there even is one!) They can see when you are not present.
This skill is hard to learn, and there are a variety of methods to help you be aware of how you listen and how you can improve. After a few of my exercises, I have had participants say "This was the first time I really was able to hear what someone said..." Imagine if all your staff felt that way, like they have been heard and appreciated.
Honing this skill can affect your bottom line in multiple ways: increased engagement, improved customer satisfaction, innovative directions, happier and appreciative staff and family, etc. It's a simple skill that we often overlook in the wider scope of our work.
Find out how to increase your listening potential - email Andrew today.
Show and Tell: Leave it in Kindergarten
Show, don't tell. This concept is something you learn in theater. Show, don't tell. In other words, I don't want to hear your explanations, your reasons, or your justifications. What I want to see is you doing something.
As an audience member, I am not engaged by listening to you talk about an old lady doing tricks on roller skates. However, I would be intrigued to see the old lady on stage doing tricks on roller skates! That’s what I want.
Too often with Improv, people will talk about what they are doing: “I am going to get you a glass of water now…” “I am walking my dog now...” “I am stapling papers…” How many times have you heard someone at your office say "I am stapling papers now!" (and if you have, I would LOVE to know more content about that…)
As we do things normally in our world, we don’t talk about it. We just do it. We brush our teeth without exclaiming "I am brushing my teeth!” We drive a car without constantly saying, "I am driving now, I am still driving, look at me drive!”
The same is true for business. I sit in meetings often and hear people talk about what they plan to do. And a lot of the time, people feel like if they talked about it, then they actually DID something. But the truth is, TALK is NOT action.
So when you are confronted with people who describe what they will do, ask them "When? When will you do it?"
Don’t tell me you will do it. Show me you have done it. That is forward motion, rather than idle chatter.
I was recently in Langley out on Whitby Island in Washington. A beautiful area, and they had all of the Whale spotting that have happened in the last week. Multiple grey whales have been spotted along with a few orcas as well. While strolling through the Whale Visitor Center, they had a display on the brains of whales, and that whales and humans share in one trait for out brains structure: the presence of Spindle Cells. In fact, it appears that Whales have a concentration of spindle cells three times larger than humans do. In their display, they equated that feature to the understanding of music and emotional connection.
A little more research uncovered that Spindle Neurons are considered the 'air traffic controllers' for emotions. When a person hits a situation of extreme emotion (anger, mistakes, self judgement, danger) then the ancient parts of the brain fire up. They can flood the brain with feelings of fight or flight, and the spindle neurons take the information quickly out to the newer portions of the brain that deal with rational thinking and higher decision making processes. They help to understand self awareness and emotional connection.
In theater, we are trained to understand how a character in a play feels. We study what motivates their decisions to do something, and what tactics they take to achieve their objective. Even though the action a character does might not be anything remotely close to what we as a person would consider, we find ways to understand the motivations, desires and thought process of that character.
By continually practicing this craft, we build up that skill to help understand why someone does what they do. We may not agree with their actions, but we can see why the character is lead to make them. This process allows us to recognize the emotional stakes of others, and to see their point of view.
So if you are ever confused why and employee of yours does that they do, put yourself in their situation: What are their motives? What are the tactics they take to try to achieve their goals? What could be their objective? By understanding and building up our understanding of how someone else thinks, we can help to build our own emotional intelligence. We can develop our Emotional Intelligence.
And maybe someday, we'll figure out what whales are thinking.
At a recent workshop for an executive group at Microsoft we discussed using a shared language for listening. We defined three methods:
The goal with defining these styles ws to say 'How do you want me to listen to what you are saying?' It was to help them set expectations for the conversation, and allow the listener to be attentive and best provide what their fellow co-worker needed. It also created a little negotiation in the beginning of the conversation, so that both parties were on the same page with what they wanted to have happen. And many times, one thing bled into another. Conversations would begin as a Friend, and then change into the Solver. However, it was the speaker, the initiator who was responsible for the changing. 'I wanted you to listen as a Friend, but I guess I am asking you to help me Solve this as well...'
So when you head into a conversation - try setting up the expectation of how you should listen. Does your co-worker need a Rock, a Solver, or a Friend? Ask first, and see if you set the expectations first to be be the most attentive and available you can be.
Which way do you want me to listen?
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Many people look at the theatrical work that my company does onstage and they say "it's amazing that this is unscripted!" Or more often it is "So, what part was scripted, and what part was improvised..."
The idea that things are constantly being created in the spot using a few simple rules is mind boggling, and somewhat impossible for people to believe.
The truth is - Improvisation is an act of constant innovation. We take what the audience gives us and create a theatrical work that amazes, engages and involves the audience as active participants in the process. The audience leaves the theater knowing they had a part in the end product that was created.
Wouldn't that be great for your business? If each employee left with the thought that they were a part of the whole, that they had an amount of control over the larger piece that has been created?
These rules for engagement in improvisational theater cross over to any phase of work, to any industry. They can help shape how your company operates, giving each of your employees the chance to leave each day feeling like they are a part of the larger organization.
These tenets: Being willing to play, finding the drive / commitment in what you do, listening and building on offers with your team; these are all skills that we strive for in our organizations.
So why would people look at Improv and say 'what can you teach me about business?'
The answer is: a lot.
"Overconfident professionals sincerely believe they have expertise, act as experts and look like experts. You will have to struggle to remind yourself that they may be in the grip of an illusion."
There are two parts to the Overconfidence Effect that I am fascinated by: the 'Illusion of Control' and 'Contrary Evidence.'
Illusion of Control is the tendency for people to behave as if they might have some control when in fact they have none. Example of this can be seen in businesses everywhere, especially by leaders who feel they must control every aspect of the business. (Side note: for years all hiring at Google went though Larry Page, regardless of the position...)
Contrary Evidence where people engage in more defensive pessimism in advance of important outcomes, in an attempt to reduce the disappointment of a bad outcome.
So rather than embracing what could happen, they look to sabotage themselves to lessen the blow of possible failure before that failure has even occurred. It is self preservation at the expense of growth and forward motion.
One lesson I always teach in my workshops is to embrace that feeling of danger and loss of control. When that fight-or-flight sensation hits you, reframe it into "This is going to be a train wreck!!! And I can't wait to see what I learn from it!!!"
Understanding that we have no control over the outcomes, and embracing change is what ImprovMindset Training is all about. Letting go of expectations, responding to stimulus in the moment and not sabotaging the outcome - these are the valuable lessons that we teach, and that help form a new heuristic for decision making in the workplace.
Find out more and see what ImprovMindset can provide for your organization.
When I talk with Business Leaders about case studies, they always say “I would have done this…” Or “I would not have made that choice…”
The reason that case studies are used for training is that they are subjective; they are an example of a situation - what happened - and outline a decision moment for people to make their own choices as to how they would have reacted.
It’s very easy, in the comfort of our own chairs at home, to decide how we would do something. It’s easy when we sit watching football and say “I would not have chosen that play…” As someone who NEVER played football, when I find myself saying that I have to laugh.
A mentor of mine talked to me about ‘how do you describe the taste of a strawberry?’ The idea is that there are things that have to be experienced, and only by DOING can you know how you would react. We try to explain things that need to be felt - acted - done. It’s not about the words, it’s about action.
I have a favorite joke: How many actors does it take to screw in a light bulb? Six. One to do it, and six to say ‘I could have done it better if I had been given the chance.’
The next time you find yourself saying “I would have done that completely differently…” remember that you didn’t. There might have been fifty mitigating factors that changed how the person who made that decision in real time chose his/her choices.
It doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it and consider your own choices. What it means is that you can consider that you might not know the whole story, and that only by experiencing all the factors of that moment could you really say how you would react. It’s like describing the taste of a strawberry; you have to just do it, as some things need to be done to be experienced.
A number of years ago I had a house in South Seattle, and I used to ride my Scooter back and forth to work. On my route was a business called AA Roofing Supply - and on most days there would be a person standing out front in a costume waving to cars. Sometimes it was an Ape. Sometimes a Chicken. Sometimes a Super Hero, or a Mexican Wrestler.
And on certain days, there would be a hybrid of costumes. A Super Hero with a Chicken head. An Ape with a Mexican Wrestler Mask. A Chicken with an Ape's head. The variety changed as much as possible.
I use this story to illustrate a point; I can't make up something that good. If I wrote that into screen play, people would see it and say "That's impossible..."
But it was REAL. I saw it. Every day. (And I have never needed Roofing Supplies. But I STILL remember the name of the store.)
Sometimes, reality is far more obscure that our imagination. Yet, we limit our imagination by saying "No, we can't do that innovation... it's too weird..." or "No one will ever go for that..." We shut down the next big idea since our version of reality is very tame. Then our version of reality comes into contact with a giant Chicken wearing a Mexican Wrestling mask.
So as you are considering options for the next big idea, be aware that you might be limiting your own growth by setting perimeters on your innovation. You might believe that the limitations are based in reality, and you might feel as if you are being responsible to reality. For a moment - consider that maybe your reality needs to be opened a little wider. Consider a Superhero Chicken. And see if you can't find something that might have been outside of your concept of reality that can drive the new ideas forward.
"The level of our success is limited only by our imagination" Aesop
There have been hundreds of discussions about how people learn, and the process that each individual goes through for learning.
The Learning Curve is always fascinating to watch. Gathering knowledge and speed as you begin to learn, and then having steep acceleration. The hard part for a lot of my clients is leading to the Plateau, and the frustration of the Plateau. "How come I am not learning more?" "Why aren't I accelerating like I was before?"
In experiential learning, we recognize the physical limitations of rapid learning and Plateaus and what they do to us. It makes some people feel alive and excited. It also makes other people scared and uncertain. The same is true of Plateaus; some people feel frustrated being in a holding pattern, and others feel comfortable and like they can finally exhale.
For me, the Plateau is a place to lean into. It's the time that your body is learning from the practice, and leading you to the next Steep Acceleration. You have to let the Plateau do it's job, and let the physical practice of learning catch up to the intellectual growth. By tying the physical and intellectual together, you can create real change.
So don't rest in the Plateau. See what it is teaching you. See what it has to offer when you can focus on the slower growth process. It's the time to get deeper into the learning and make it a practice.
And practice makes perfect.
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