Tag Archives: #improvise

As Good As It Gets

Adam and I recently finished level 1 Improv Class. It was something that we were always curious about, and I was personally very interested in learning how to go with the flow. So, we did the class and finished it successfully as well.

There is an activity in Improv called Dr.KnowItAll. Three people stand on the stage. The idea is they are one person with three talking heads, and each head can utter one word at a time. The audience asks questions, and the Dr.KnowItAll answers them all. 

Let’s say I am on the stage, and the audience asks a question, ‘Are Birds Real?’ What I want to say is, ‘Only If You Can Fly’. I know pretty sassy right. But, I am dependent on what my partners say, and if I try to force-feed my answer, it just makes the situation worse. The answer that comes out might not be what I want, but it is the reality as it is. 

Does this sound familiar?

Another exercise or activity in Improv is – Audience gives a keyword, and 2-3 students have to do a skit on it. First, you are dependent on the keyword that the audience gives you. You may have no interest in squirrels, but that’s the word your team got. And now, you are also dependent on what your partners say on stage. You may want to form a squirrel army and take on the world, but your partners on stage may decide to go on a picnic instead.

Does that sound familiar?

All of us have situations in life where things do not go as we planned or wanted them to. I might have wanted all top performers in my team, but I got a mix of high and medium performers. Or I have a team of top performers, but they are not high performing. 

Life in general very rarely goes the way imagined it to, right? How many of our and our friend’s lives went as we imagined it to be? Life is Improv. 

What Improv teaches you is

  • Yes-and: to accept the gift that you are receiving and build on it and pass it on as a gift to others. 
  • Listen: If we are so busy imagining what life should be like we will miss out on what is happening
  • Trust your gut: Your body knows best. Even if you have no idea how the sentence will form, say the word that your gut tells you to.
  • Support the team: For it all to work, we all have to be in it together. 

Imagine if we lived our life using the above principles. I admit it is hard, especially for type A’s out there who have a higher standard and want things to go a certain way. It is hard to live with an OK answer when you had such a brilliant one in your head. 

This is the time to face reality – sometimes you have got to do the best with what you have got – because this is as good as it gets.

How are you going to face reality? 

Choreograph or Improvise

Have you ever said to yourself – “If only, I had done it this way – it would have worked out.” or “Why did this have to happen?” Have you ever been able to get things executed precisely the way you planned?

Neither have I – best-laid plans gone awry, right. I am a project manager, and I have come to realize that one of the reasons why we need project managers is because things rarely go to plan. If everything worked as its supposed to then, we wouldn’t have to manage them. Life would work similarly – if everything in life went as we planned we would all be robots (maybe an exaggeration but you get the picture)

I recently came across the book “Gallop to Freedom” – a book about two horse trainers who have a very different way of training horses – with compassion. And one of their leadership principles is “Improvise and not choreograph”. And like all things I need to learn – this stayed with me. We try to plan our life just like we choreograph a dance. But unlike dancing life is not a one-person show – we live in a society where there are so many external factors ranging from people to weather that it is impossible to account for all the different outcomes.

How about if we decided to improvise our steps in the dance depending on who shows up. We might have a very well choreographed Bollywood song but what if the music presented is a ballet song. It does not mean that we should not plan for things at all – remember the golden mean. Instead, choreographing can help us when we improvise. Life is no different – we prepare for various or often one outcome, and hence we are unprepared mentally when life throws a curveball. If we were improvising, then we would continue without breaking a sweat. The amount of emotional energy getting over not being able to use our choreography will not exist, and we will ride along taking in whatever comes our way – not only making it our own but improvising on it too.

The best thing about improvising is that you are always where you are supposed to be – there are no regrets, and it is up to you how great you make it. If life hands you lemons, then you make lemonade, or you cry. The choice is yours, and you own your choices.

Improvisation also ties into the principle that we do not have control – all we have is the illusion of control. Unexpected things happen all the time – either we get overwhelmed when things don’t work our way or make what is happening our way and carry on. If you are a realist, then the following quote probably resonates with you. You can only invest in the process and not the outcome – but if you improvise you can create your outcome.

My friend and I were visiting Palace of Versailles in France. There was a long line to get in. We decided to play dumb charades and entertained ourselves and others around us. The funny thing is that’s what I remember about our trip, not the actual palace – Improvisation makes for good memories too!