Frames for Improvisation Training

You can live, you can get along, or you can thrive. You can create or destroy. You can learn in different ways. You can command or connect.

These are true about people, and they’re also true about companies.

As a member of the Applied Improvisation Network, I’ve attended conferences for the past few years to exchange ideas, gather new exercises, get inspired by people from 30 countries doing this work and to develop stronger and more meaningful frames for our work. I’ve always been good at fitting improvisation to a goal, or set of goals, on a departmental level for our clients. When asked what my long-range hopes for improvisation are, I’d usually say, “Two things: World Peace and an end to the phrase, “It’s Not My Job.”

In Berlin this year, I found a number of very powerful frames.

One of them comes from Montreal; Michelle Holiday and the always delightful Belina Raffy presented a workshop on Thrivability, and they are proposing a series of events beginning in 2014 to explore the concept around the globe.

The frame is simple. Life itself is improvisational. Michelle talked about it in a 2012 blog post:

“Improvisation is the way life works.  

Here’s what I mean.  Living systems (like plants and people and companies) appear to be static things, but in fact, it’s more accurate to think of them as pattern and process.  They create themselves continuously through ongoing interaction with their environment.  And their environment is constantly throwing new, unpredictable things at them.  So what do they do?  They respond creatively and collaboratively to unexpected circumstances.  This is how all the parts of your body manage to maintain homeostasis (and you!), for example, even as you spring sudden changes of temperature, strange new foods and weird chemicals on them.  They improvise.”

The way we’ve arranged and run organizations has moved us away from the skills we naturally possess, and like anything else, without practice, we lose our ability. Improvisation can bring those skills back. It truly is about world peace, or at least saving the world. Read Michelle’s full blog post here.

Brent Darnell compared improvisation to Medina’s Brain Rules. I will explore this more in future posts, but it’s a mind-blowing frame. Improvisation is connected to virtually every way we learn.

Gijs van Bilson, Joost Kadijk and Cyriel Kortleven talked about corporate culture and multiculturalism, putting a whole new frame on improvisation and “getting to know each other better” requests from our clients. Organizations can destroy other cultures, equalize everyone (nobody is different) or create using cultural differences.

Alike van der Wilke and Henk van der Steen framed the old ways of companies – the “Anglo Saxon Way” in comparison to what’s happening now – the “Rheinland Way”:

Command, Control and Communication is being replaced by Connection, Craftsmanship and Trust.

In three short days, I was gifted with frames for applied improvisation in the following ways:

Improvisation is about life itself and how we thrive.

Improvisation is about how we learn.

Improvisation can help us create with our cultures, instead of destroy with them.

Improvisation is about how we organize.

We need improvisation training for what lies ahead. AIN President Paul Z Jackson says we need improvisation “to engage more fully in the present, and to prepare for an unknowable future.”* Yes, that is yet another frame.

We can get rid of the phrase, “It’s not my job.” Can world peace be far behind?

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