I’ll credit Tina Fey and her audio-book, Bossypants* for getting me thinking again about how the world would be a better place if we all lived by the rules of improv. To reduce the risk of misrepresenting one of the many phenomenal graduates of Second City, let me say that the following are my perspectives on the essentials of improvisation (verifiable, of course, at Wikipedia).

“Yes, and …” – The core of making improv (and life) work is acceptance. No matter what your colleague offers, you accept it. Everything is an offer, if not a gift. You begin with “yes.” Then you build, or add a new offer. You extend. You expand on the original offer. Each piece builds and refines the characters and plot of the scene.

It helps to make statements rather than asking questions, which really puts the creativity onus back on your colleagues.

What if we took this approach to life? Everything is an offer, if not a gift. This view fits nicely with Alison Luterman’s opening line “Try to love everything that gets in your way.”^ Acceptance doesn’t mean agreement. Perhaps saying “yes” transcends judgment. It all gets included and then we roll with it. As a teacher and as a speaker, I’ve learned to take every question or comment (or disruption) as a contribution. What a happy bride I’d have if I did this at home. Whatever emerges gets integrated. It’s a constant practice of letting go of your agenda.

These ideas remind me of the concept of “cycles of reciprocity” (I’m not entirely sure what this means and I welcome your comments). My sense is that there is a possibility of a process of ongoing giving and receiving. I’ve heard play described as “give and take with no attachments” and that is the spirit to which I’m speaking. I believe we deeply want to assist and contribute to each other and when we keep the mutual contribution alive, we are happy. (The book, Leadership and self-deception, stands on this assumption and offers some great theoretical and practical ideas.)

What I’m playing with, and encouraging you to try, is to live like you are improvising (you are anyway, so why not follow the rules?). Greet life with affirmation and addition (that’s a polysyllabic way of saying “yes, and” and probably won’t catch on as well). See if you can accept whatever comes your way “because if something is in your way it is going your way”^


*BTW, Janet Maslin wrote “Bossypants isn’t a memoir. It’s a spiky blend of humor, introspection, critical thinking and Nora Ephron-isms for a new generation” in The New York Times.

^see April 18, 2011 blog entry for the full poem

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