To Improvise

I am grateful for Patricia Ryan Madson’s book, Improv Wisdom. One, for it’s clever, snappy chapter titles that are the best and most needed kind of pithy. By pithy, here, I mean deep and useful values and practices. I’m grateful for the focus on innovation and the reality of making it up as we go. I think I’ve lived most of my life feeling that I must plan it, which is mostly a good thing, except for all the inherent fear parts of course, rather than, well, living it — which seems to just grow more aliveness.

This passage below from Improv Wisdom is an easy one to use with groups to set up an important conversation on improvising. Even better when also inviting some somatic experience — our bodies know things our minds can’t.

Long before there was planning, there was improvising. For millennia humans functioned naturally only by thinking on their feet, problem-solving in the here and now. I wake up. I look around carefully. I hunt for food. I share it with my fellow primates. We find a warm, dry place to sleep. We have a few laughs….

Leapfrogging thousands of years into the present, we find ourselves nearly strangled by the planning instinct. For some of us it is our life. We plan when we should execute. We make lists, worry, or theorize (often endlessly) when we ought to be responding. We choose safety above all else. We seem to have lost the knack of looking at the day with fresh eyes or doing anything out of our comfort zone.

With the value of being with life itself, the questions for the group encounter are easy — so as to animate the quality of improvising together.

  • Ah, what’s a story of a time when you had to think on your feet? What was that like for you?
  • What do you worry about that you would like not to worry about? Share a story.
  • What’s an example in your life (or work) of when you saw with fresh eyes? What was that like for you?

And for other questions (that help a group encounter itself), well, you can improvise.

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