I spent yesterday hanging around in a factory. Something I find fascinating and enjoy doing and something I’ve done many times before.
The day before yesterday, a learned friend and I convened a group of people we admired, provided very little structure, a few subtle nudges and took a risk that some magic might happen. I’ve never done that before.
The 1st February 2012 was the day the first “Impro JAM” happened. At least the first I know of. Two months earlier in Café Rouge Kingsway, my learned friend Caryn Vanstone and I had played with the idea of bringing together all of the people we admired who look to blur the lines between improvisation and corporate life with no more of an offer than to play together with what we held a collected passion for. People came from as far away as rural ‘off-the-grid’ Spain and as close as Primrose Hill. People came from the world of musical improv, jazz improv, improvisation comedy and theatre as well as consultants and business folk who explore improvisation as a means of working with complexity in organisations. (Look up these wonderful people: John Cremer, Rob Poynton, Neil Mullarkey, Alex Steele, Bruno Dalbiez, Stuart Reid, David Hall, Joe Samuel, Iain Christie, Fabiola Williams, Asher Rickaysen, Heather Urquart)
The day passed in a blur of song, experiments, stories, insights and laughter in that all-to-quick way that happens when doing this sort of work. Caryn summed the day up for me by saying at the end “If only every working day could be like that!” But the day didn’t end there for me.
Yesterday I went to a factory to help them understand the culture, beliefs and behavioural change they need to effect to transform their business. This was a familiar and much loved environment for me but the inspirational events of the Impro JAM wouldn’t leave me alone to get on with business-as-usual. My curiosity and creativity muscles were still buzzing from the day before which made the factory seem much more exciting than usual. It was like an episode of The Simpsons where Homer is considering becoming a clown and everything he sees reminds him of clowning!
As I hung around at the daily factory floor performance meeting, a stand-up, rapid-fire gathering around the performance boards for each production line, I recalled how the day before I’d been ‘side-directing’ an improvised scene to mimic real-life to see what the performers noticed about that experience. I started pretending to myself that this meeting was an improvised scene being played out by actors that I or anyone else there could direct or coach.
Then it struck me!
Of course this was an improvised scene! They were just a bunch of people hanging around having a largely spontaneous conversation around a fixed agenda. Each participant had character, a back-story, a status, an emotion, an attitude, a perception of each of the others (etc).
I went through the rest of the day playing a game in my mind and continually asking myself two questions:
1) If I had to accurately re-create the current scene I am watching with a group of actors what detail would I need to include on the script for each character?
2) In relation to the desired story of the actors…what’s wrong with this scene?
Beyond simply being a fun game to play with myself I found that doing this really tuned me into the individuals and the relationships in a much deeper way than normal. My listening deepend, I became curious not only about what people were saying and doing but micro-movements, thoughts, beliefs, status (etc..)
I imagined that after each scene that I would provide the individuals with a scrip that told them accurately how to recreate what I’d witnessed – what to say, what to feel, what to think and how to react to the others.
Here’s a Hypothetical example
The Performance Meeting – Scene 2
Bert: [Moving around a lot in a low status way. Talking 1st circle down and into chest. Talking loudly to nobody in particular to mask a growing deep fear of rejection] “So, that’s what I propose. What do you all think?”
Janet: [Playing with hair. Staring at Bert with a still head. Think to self its a stupid idea but nod politely but say nothing and let him fail.]
Fred: [Sitting with an arched back and laboured breathing. Think to self “I wonder what’s for dinner tonight”]
Joe: [Suddenly realise you’ve not been paying attention. Suddenly sits upright and becomes flushed. Memories of school flood back. Voice laboured] “Er- YES! Sounds good!”
Bert: [Fiddling awkwardly with tie. Adopting a slightly higher status but not believing that anyone has really agreed but better not knowing than facing rejection] “Great. That’s agreed then.”
I was chuffed I had a new game to play that was relevant to the work I do.
Give it a go. Wherever you are as you read this – try writing the script for what you see and see what you notice.
Wonderful idea, Steve! A lovely (richer, more alive) variation on P.Senge’s “left hand column” idea.
The next step of my experiment, after crafting a script, will be to get the group to ‘act themselves out’ again. Wondering what the experience would be like to have a script of one’s spontaneity and then act it out with coaching to get the detail incredibly precise.
A next stretch would be to then get people to act out each others scripts as accurately as possible. All would be very small sequences of no more than 3-5 minutes for reflection and to encourage the group to see “the world in a grain of sand”.
Just need some willing guinea pigs!