Blog Relocated!

The Tiger Martians and Salespeople blog is in the process of relocating to the cszportland.com website:

http://www.portlandcomedy.com/applied-improv-blog/

We’re moving some of the still relevant posts from here, and all new content will be published at the newer site only.

Thanks! Enjoy your discoveries!

Improv for Music Educators

April has been a very interesting month in our Applied Improvisation world. Ballet, Technical Support, Innovation, Shakespeare for 5th Graders – all sorts of new challenges have surfaced.

CSz Keyboard Player Mark Anderson approached me several months ago and asked if I would be interested in teaching improv skills, theory and music to the regional meeting of American Orff-Schulwerk Association. Mark teaches in elementary schools and got involved with the Orff Approach several years ago. Mark sees a lot of connections between the two disciplines of Orff and Improvisation, and he’s even taught us at a team practice.

We had six hours to play with, including lunch. The morning was devoted to improvisation theory, culture and skills – all experienced through games, and then reflected upon. All of the teachers took to it like ducks to water.

In the afternoon, we shifted gears into creating songs using improv. Most of it was fantastic, but there seemed to be some elements of hesitation. I was at a loss to understand it, given how well the previous work had gone, until Mark explained it to me: Words. Orff teachers aren’t used to inventing lyrics!

In or out of comfort zones, beautiful music was created. Connections between the forms were clearly made, and lots of fun was had. Read Mark’s terrific blog piece on his experience.

Patrick Short has been writing songs since he was 8. Find some of the more recent ones at shortboule.com.

 

 

 

Improv at the Ballet

We had an extraordinary workshop experience last week because of an exchange on Twitter:

Mar 24
Helen Pickett is making the dancers…improv. Eek! Ballet dancers’ worst nightmare!

Mar 24
Maybe we can help?

Mar 24
Please do! Wanna crash a rehearsal soon and show us how it’s done?

Mar 24
Yes And! We’d be happy to. Call or message us through portlandcomedy.com.

And on April 11, it came together!

Apr 11 workshop! If we can survive an hour of improv in a format we don’t claim to be good at, we’ll kill it in Petal.

Apr 11 : The most elegant improvised pirate ship ever!

Apr 11 Thanks for today! We had such a blast. Opened our minds and made us laugh!

In speaking with choreographer Helen Pickett (see an interview with Helen) before the workshop, I realized that we were taking two forms – dance and acting – and connecting them with the bridge of Applied Improvisation. The workshop itself came pretty directly out of the corporate workshop playbook, and it was very enlightening.

Dancers typically are told exactly what to do and when to do it. When faced with moments of improvisation, the openness can be overwhelming.

We explored that through exercises aimed at:

  • Listening / Observing
  • Accepting
  • Supporting – going where you are needed
  • Taking competent risks (after all, these people have amazing physical tools at their disposal – freedom to use those tools is exhilarating)
  • Letting go of mistakes

The last item – letting go of mistakes – seemed to really hit home.

One of the best things for me was seeing tension give way to laughter – and a gathering crowd of folks on the other side of the glass who wished they had chosen to play with us.

 photo

 

Minds opened.

We hope to collaborate further with Oregon Ballet Theatre!

 

Update: I got to see OBT in action on April 24, and Petal was astounding – I could not tell what was improvised! The whole evening, called Celebrate, was partly in honor of retiring principal dancer Alison Roper; there was a multi-media retrospective of her life and career (dance, images, music and a voice-over interview), plus two of her favorite dances – Cor Perdut (absolutely stunning) and Girl From Ipanema (her first big role at OBT).

Following the performance was a talk-back featuring Artistic Director Kevin Irving and four dancers. Makino Hayashi gave our workshop experience a nice shout out (and I even got a hug). The improvisation was the most asked-about and talked about element. Kevin expressed regret that he had had to miss the improv workshop, and hoped I would be willing to come back.

 

When improv performer and instructor Patrick Short dances, people laugh. Petal was part of the Oregon Ballet Theatre production Celebrate, which ran April 17-26, 2014 at the Newmark Theater at Portland5.

Let’s Play 5 Things

In the world of the ComedySportz Show, 5 Things is often a centerpiece game. A player is sent out of the room and the audience is polled by the referee for five active activities that they’ve actually done. The ref then changes out elements of the activity to make it really difficult – like skydiving out of an airplane made of helium Jell-O piloted by the band One Direction, using semaphore flags as a parachute.

The guesser is called back on to the playing field and is given 4 minutes to do the activities – with clues provided by their team using gibberish and mime. It’s an amazingly difficult game that showcases communication skills, cooperation and the ability to fail gloriously and graciously. 5 Things is also fun to play and watch.

Today’s post pulls together 5 different thoughts from blogs and articles folks have sent me. Your job is to guess how they are connected.

1. It’s a Post Called “5 Things You Must Do to Keep Your Best People”

Peter Economy talks about important things like encouraging risks, giving people advancement opportunities and encouraging play.

2. Focus is the Next Big Thing

We spend a portion of each workshop we lead playing games that reflect on the importance of focusing on what and who is in front of you. Improv performers talk about “being present”; in today’s hyper-information world, just being present sets you apart and gives you a huge advantage over the pack. Dr Marla Gottschalk refers to a Stanford study that shows multi-taskers at a disadvantage in focusing on the task at hand. Here is the link to the study, in case you are too busy to read Marla’s post.

3. The Only Woman in the Room

Ellen Leanse writes about the inherent sexism in high tech. I’ve worked in high tech sales and marketing, and I’ve seen these forces in action. Historically, it’s also been a problem in improvisation. It’s getting better in many groups and many places, but there’s still work to do.

More interesting to me, in the context of today’s post, is this: what opportunities are we missing when we surround ourselves only with people who share our backgrounds, culture and characteristics?

4. Talent Selection Instead of Talent Development

John O’Sullivan writes about coaching in “serious” youth sports; this interests me partly because I coach U-14 Rec Girls Soccer and partly because the same concepts apply in running an improvisational theater group. I try to think “long game” in both areas.Read this and think about the company(s) you work for and with. Are you able to think “long game”?

5. Motivating Senior Employees to Help with Onboarding 

Judith Shervin’s post is on point and practical. Your front-line leaders know what new people need to know now. Everybody wins, and a small sacrifice in the short game reaps benefits in the long game.

How many point did you get in today’s game of 5 Things? You are in control of the scoring – you make the rules. What connects these items of employee engagement?

Opportunity.

Patrick Short is busy developing a certification program Applied Improvsation for CSz Worldwide. As in ComedySportz, the points matter.

We are all Michael Bay… or are we?

In case you missed it this week, Hollywood director Michael Bay had some problems presenting at the Consumer Electronics Show event sponsored by Samsung.

Here is a link to coverage of this epic “meltdown” on Business Insider.

First, I would like to express compassion for Mr Bay. This kind of experience could happen to anyone; such is the stuff from where nightmares are woven. Apparently, he had been hired to be what we used to call a “booth babe” in Comdex days – someone hired to stand in the booth or on the stage who has little knowledge of the product or connection to the company. Calling it a “meltdown”, as Business Insider did, isn’t accurate. I’d be happy to demonstrate what a meltdown looks like if they want to Skype me.

The teleprompter went out. That happens. Even though the Samsung Exec onstage was trying to help, Michael couldn’t continue and left the stage. The “smattering” of applause is painful.

We all face these challenges from time to time. I’ve had projector bulbs blow out, cables fail after being tested and no projector at all, even though one was specified*. You simply have to be ready for things to go wrong.

  • Take an improv class. I certainly recommend the organizations in the ComedySportz family, and there are other good ones as well. Improv teaches you flexibility, to respond to the unexpected, to be inspired by events as they occur and to connect with your audience in the moment as it is. You learn that perfection is a myth. You also learn that mistakes are opportunities instead of death sentences.
  • Limit yourself to doing events that emotionally connect with you, your life and your values. If something goes wrong, you can feel what needs to happen.
  • Understand the selling point of the event. Do your homework. Have some talking points ready.
  • Have a sidekick ready. Sales teams are more effective than lone wolves. Michael didn’t recognize that the other person onstage was there to help him.
  • Make the other person look good. Whether it’s the tech team, your co-presenter or your audience, don’t throw anyone under the bus. Make them look like heroes for sticking with you.
  • Tell your stories. Whether to kill time until technology gets fixed or to connect with the audience, your stories matter, as long as they are real, a little bit self-deprecating and most of all, told with heart.

A little improvisational training could have prepared Michael Bay and made him a hero. He got hired for something he wasn’t passionate about, and he clearly did not prepare. Everybody lost. It must have been painful to be in the room. Audiences want you to succeed, and they take it pretty hard when you give up.

I personally know hundreds of talented improvisors who would have seized that technological failure as a huge opportunity. I’ve led Applied Improvisation Training for hundreds of companies and thousands of people who, with what they learned in the few hours we spent together, would have stayed on that stage and sold that product hard.

I’ll see you in Improv Class or at an Applied Improvisation Workshop.

* If someone forgets to provide a projector, you can pretend that one is there and talk about your “slides” anyway – I learned that as a joke at an AIN Conference but actually used it with a paying client audience a few months later. They thought it was hilarious and even asked questions about my “bullet points”.

Patrick Short will be the MC at an event in February, for 270 people from 60 companies, and he can’t wait for something unexpected to happen.

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?

The Improvisational Response to Disasters

The recent flash floods in the Front Range of Colorado bring several thoughts to mind.

First, our thoughts and prayers go out to those who have lost or missing loved ones, and those whose homes and favorite places have been damaged. One flood seems like quite enough, yet the rains keep coming and streams like Boulder Creek, Four-Mile Creek, the St Vrain River, Big Thompson River and others keep roaring down toward towns, homes and businesses.

highway36

The above image shows Highway 36, just north of Lyons. Yes, that’s the main highway between Boulder and Estes Park.

highway7

Above is Highway 7, about 12 miles west of Lyons, up the canyon toward the Peak to Peak Highway.

Our family enjoyed a reunion week this past summer in Lyons. We stayed at the Stone Mountain Lodge just past Lyons, enjoyed hiking up along the Peak to Peak Highway and even rafted on the gentle St Vrain River. Today, Lyons is cut off from the world. No electricity, no water (the city supply was overrun and breached) and no passable roads in or out. I’ve seen these beautiful places minus the water, and my heart goes out to those affected.

How does a town / county / state / nation respond to a disaster of this kind?

Of course, there’s planning. Maybe even preparedness drills. But what if the assumptions all change?

  • a 100-year flood event
  • part of the deluge hits areas that burned in the last three years, so there’s a greater tendency for landslides
  • the rain keeps coming after the first wave of flooding
  • roads cut off – and we’re not talking about places where you can “go around the other block”
  • helicopters can’t fly in the continued bad weather
  • many of the mountain residents are completely out of reach; some stay out of reach in normal times

What skills would allow for teams to adapt to unexpected circumstances?

Yes. Improvisation skills, applied to emergency response. (You probably knew that was coming.)

It’s not possible to adequately respond to disasters with pure improvisation. Life is far to complex for that. (Just think about all of the different pieces of our infrastructure that must be accounted for.) But once the plans are in place, and a disaster occurs, the actions the teams take must have elements of improvisation to succeed. You can’t apply an evacuation plan with helicopters if the helicopters can’t fly. Even more important, how do you get disparate teams to work together under that kind of pressure?

Dr. Mary Tyszkiewicz has explored the links between improvisation and disaster response. She calls it Heroic Improv, and we’ll introduce you to her in a blog post very soon.

Patrick Short fell off of his inner tube in 4 feet of water on St Vrain River in July. That was on a rapid with a difficulty rating of maybe .25.

LEGO

What do you learn from building with LEGO?

They’re just pieces of plastic that kids play with.

In April, I participated in a workshop led by Aneta Key, Chief Executive Muse from AEDEA Partners, LLC (aedeapartners.com) in the Bay Area. One portion of it was devoted to building a “library” using LEGO pieces. A group of us had to share a bag of bricks and other parts, while each quickly designing and constructing our own library.

  • We had to begin and complete the project with very little instruction
  • Each of us had to decide what was meant by a “library”
  • We had to use what was in front of us
  • We had to deal with sharing limited resources
  • Some of us even had to negotiate trades for the pieces we needed

Following the building, we were given some time to “present” our designs within our groups, and then to respond to each others’ presentations.

In my own small group, we had interiors, exteriors, whole libraries, parts of libraries and a a representation of a “digital library” – someone built a computer server with their LEGO pieces.

  • What different approaches did people take?
  • What can we learn about people from the approach they took?
  • What did each of us bring to the process?
  • What did each person focus on in their presentation?

It took me a couple of months to get my LEGO kits together; I convinced my teenage son to part with his bucket of LEGO pieces (delivered to my office with a laugh). After a couple of hours of sorting and dividing, I headed off to the store for a set of “plain” bricks to give the sets enough pieces so that 4-6 people could share them. (Do you know how hard it is to find plain LEGO bricks?  If you want to build Hogwarts, you are in business, but just old school bricks are hard to find.) I persevered, and found a 650 piece set. Later, I found out about a used LEGO store, so Alex Falcone and I went there after a nearby corporate workshop and bought a bunch of flat pieces – bases, if you will.

So I’m set – we have 8 big Ziploc baggies with a variety of pieces in them.

I’ve used this exercise 5 times in the last week with wildly different groups:

  • College textbook salespeople
  • Property management maintenance guys (yes, ALL guys)
  • A gathering of the Applied Improvisation Network Portland Local Group
  • High school grads in a “pre-work” program sponsored by the public schools
  • Middle schoolers in our CSz Summer Camp

ain

In one amazing week, I’ve witnessed colleges, apartment complexes, restaurants, places to work and tree houses being built. Many tree houses included pools, flying ability, an aquarium and amazing ways to climb aboard. My favorite college looked like a microscope. One of the apartment complexes featured an unpaved part of the parking lot – “we haven’t paved that part yet.”

All we did was play with LEGO, but we also learned about:

  • Imagination
  • Cooperation
  • Making do with what we’ve got
  • Recapturing a sense of play (even a couple of middle schoolers needed help with that)
  • Just starting and seeing what happens
  • Designing improvisationally
  • Failing often
  • Presentation skills
  • Building on others’ ideas
  • Sharing experiences from our selling stories
  • What’s most important to us in doing a good job
  • Gibberish skills – expressing our design without real words and seeing what we’re able to communicate

Is that all?

What have you learned?

camp

Patrick Short has been teaching applied improvisation for business since 1989, used Duplos (large, little kid LEGO pieces) in an exercise he’s always called, “LEGO”, and now he has a naming problem. Follow him on Twitter @patrickshort4

Blind Bobsled

It makes me crazy when I hear people say that it takes special skills to improvise.

It just takes the right situation, the right opportunity and the right attitude. Given those conditions, anyone can improvise. What gets improvised may be more or different from what you expected.

How about an applied improvisation game that involves moving around a space, adjusting for other players, finding new situations and avoiding crashing into each other?

While blind?

Jane Wolfe recently led a workshop where she taught the game Bobsled; she learned it from me, I learned it from William Hall at the AIN Conference in San Francisco in September, 2012.

I appreciate the shout out, and her story is very cool.  Improv with the Visually Impaired.

I Was Used

Shimon Shmueli set me up.

He’s the leader of Touch 360, a “strategy, innovation and design” company; he’s got a high-tech industry resume several times longer than my arm, and he was getting ready to speak at an Applied Improvisation Network regional gathering in Portland.

My contribution was to lead a series of warm-ups to the evening focused on design thinking.

I was walking to the front of the room, and Shimon took me aside and told me he thought I should lead the group in Sun and Moon.

Sun and Moon is a simple and profound activity. Participants stand in a circle, and are asked to pick a “sun” and a “moon” from among the other people. They are not to let on who they’ve picked; it’s a secret. When the game starts, they are to move quickly to “become equidistant” from their sun and moon, as fast as they can, and if their targets move on them, they have to keep moving. Chaos ensues. (There’s also a second round, but it’s not germane to the story.) Shimon had seen me run the game at a Portland State University class he teaches on entrepreneurship.

We ran the game, it was fun, and the very bright group of participants completely got the “jolts” of understanding that Sun and Moon offers.

Following another exercise, Shimon started his presentation, Creativity by Emergence and Leadership.

I can’t completely do his thesis justice, but let me try:

Doing something truly new requires intentional creativity.

Improvisation is great for

  • scenario playing and interaction prototyping
  • brainstorming via emotional uplift and allowing failure
  • demonstrating

But if a new product or service or other innovation is a story, does improvisation do the job?

Improvisation is:

  • Process, not product
  • Limited in its resources
  • Sequential, not parallel

Shimon compared improvisation to the TV show Survivor:

  • no overall leaders
  • simple rules
  • safer in large groups
  • steer toward consensus
  • unpredictable, internally and externally
  • players avoid “visibility” (they don’t want to stand out from the group – publicly)
  • common objectives fall apart fast

For design, and true, intentional creativity, you need a story line – setting the stage, anchor points, climax and the end – along with coloration.

Shimon also compared improvisation to swarm theory, and showed us videos of a very large, very active flock of birds.  If it’s “beautiful” or “cool”, it’s because we (the observers) are applying those values.  There is no creativity in what is happening inside the flock. The birds are each reacting to the moves of a group of birds in their immediate vicinity, and are continuously adjusting to aim for the center of that group.

It’s just like Sun and Moon, said Shimon, where the individual participants where simply responding to a couple of simple rules and the moves of their “sun” and “moon” (the birds in their immediate vicinity).

And that’s why we needed to play Sun and Moon. I was used.

Is he right? Is what we do just a series of responses that do not indicate intentional creativity?

Sometimes, yes. But I like to think there’s more to it than that.

Add a few constraints to improv, including some rules, styles (coloration) and a goal, and you can tell a story.

Even if improv performance is not your goal, accepting an improvisational mindset is a great way to lead to intentional creativity – build a great team and turn them loose – with constraints and a goal.

If all you are doing is reacting to the people nearest you, maybe you are just flying around in a flock. Or playing Sun and Moon. It’s fun, it might look beautiful, but it’s not creating anything.

I was used.