In our current era of information overload and instant everything it seems that our attention spans are getting shorter. Much of our mental processing gets taken up by screening out input in order to find the information that we need. Personally I find it extremely difficult to use a browser that does not have Adblock Plus installed – and also set to exterminate graphical ads! At the same time we are constantly seeking opportunities to connect with like minded people and engage in meaningful and beneficial ways. This requires us to focus our attention in the present moment and bring as much of ourselves to the conversation as possible. The balancing act we are called upon to carry off is one of staying sane under a barrage of stimuli while being open to the possibilities that arise through engaging fully with clients and colleagues. It is my experience that the practice of simple improvisation techniques support the resilience to forge through the clutter while retaining access to the flexibility and enthusiasm that opens doors. Listening is a basic requirement for human interaction and the bad news is that real listening seems to have become a lost and mysterious art practiced only by a select few. The good news is that it only takes us a split second to recognise that we are not listening to another person and use the awareness to jolt ourselves rapidly back into the room. Opportunity appears and disappears on a moment to moment basis and the habit of relaxed alertness means we are here for more of the time and therefore for more opportunities.
I was fortunate to take part in a recent workshop where the Maydays were coached in one specific improvisation technique by the superb Brandon Gardner from the Upright Citizens Brigade. We focused on “Game of the Scene” which meant that we were identifying the patterns that naturally arise in conversations in order to consciously use them to construct satisfying comedic situations. The game of the scene is the structure that underlies such classics as the Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch or Four Candles by the Two Ronnies. By establishing a pattern that the audience recognises comedians let them in on the joke and simply have to repeat the pattern to elicit increasing doses of laughter. The audience is subconsciously saying “Do it again!” once they have spotted the pattern. The energy between the performers increases as more emotion is evoked by playing the game e.g. John Cleese’s rising and unsuccessfully suppressed frustration at not being able to name a cheese that was in stock. To be able to spot and play the game of a scene while improvising the scene requires discipline, trust and practice and when it comes together we are truly in the flow with our stage partner, the audience and ourselves
When we are able to identify a pattern in a conversation in our regular or professional lives we have an invitation to increase rapport with the other person and to explore and to mutually create new possibilities which would otherwise be missed. By listening for the golden moment we can add our “yes” and start to build a foundation to support collaborative creativity and shared opportunity. Every manufactured material object in our physical environment began as an idea that the inventor said “yes” to and then got agreement from someone else. If you reach out and grasp a man made object right now then you are holding the result of an improvised string of “yes’s” – including the “yes’s” that lead you to be in the proximity of that object right now. Every project, team or company is the result is a string of “yes’s” and continues to exist through an unfolding stream of “yes” T
When we fully embrace, create and share success then we must embody the basic principles of improvisation Listen, Say Yes and Commit. Otherwise everything fizzles and dribbles away into the ether. So whether you are listening intently to a client talking about a big exciting new project or a knotty problem that needs solving or you are just having a laugh with a friend, then in that moment you are merging with the underlying miraculous creative pattern of the biggest game of the scene we know of – life on Earth. Enjoy the ride!