I have just finished facilitating a workshop on the fringes of Melbourne. Now sitting in a cafe and reflecting on how I do what I do. Imagine this …
60 people show up for a workshop designed to seek feedback on a draft strategy. They are queuing out the door and it’s clear that many have turned up seeking resolution on another purpose. The air is tense and my client is nervous. This is familiar territory for me. I am nervous too, but also confident enough change the plan and respond to the needs of the group. This is how I work now … I improvise.
Innovation comes from a balance of planning and improvisation. As I grow wiser at this game, I know the important part of the planning process isn’t the agenda and flow of activities – who sticks to a rigid plan anyway? A robust planning and design process prepares you for the unexpected … it makes improvisation possible. Just like on stage, improvisational performers don’t just show up and wing it. They don’t have a script, but they do have an elegant set principles and practices. And they practice, practice, practice … and then practice some more!
If you watch improvisers practice their art, you’d be right in observing that they are playing games. And that’s the whole point! I’ll quote my mate Chris Corrigan on this in relation his proposition that leadership is theatre …
Is there anything about leadership that cannot be taught with a little theatre training? Actor training is not about creating a character that is not you. It is rather about connecting with your deepest self, and your lived experience to be the authentic character that you need to be. Improv is about relaxing everything you thought you knew about what is going on and being open to new sources of resilience and resourcefulness.
As a facilitator, Improv has connected me with my “deepest self” and I have discovered the “authentic character” that I need to be when serving a group. When I relax into that character I am expressive and playful. I listen intently for offers and notice (really notice) what’s going on. Noticing things often informs my next step … my next offer to the group. And that can’t be planned.
Today, in response to the needs of participants, I made an offer to the group that meant a huge change to the agenda and the room. It was a critical moment and it could have gone pear shaped. The outcomes of this offer were unknowable and I love these moments! This is where the real work is … the learning edge for you and the group. I was applying improvisational principles that come from theatre – of being present, noticing more, accepting offers and just doing something. It is only in moments like these can one be in the flow. For some people these moments happen when surfing a wave or writing a book. Whatever the practice, these are the times when our “authentic character” shines brightest.