Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Benefits of Improv

By my rough calculation, I’ve been “doing” improv for about six months. That’s what “they” call it, “doing.” 

And while having “done” it, I can’t point to one single specific instance or lesson that has changed my life for the better, I’d be young, dumb, and unplumb to claim it hadn’t done anything for my personal development.
In my first meeting with my new mentor at work – who is a VP in Information Technology – we spent almost the entire hour talking about how the keys to influencing originate in the same crafty grotto that improving was born in.
  • Make Eye Contact – If you want someone to trust you, you’re going to have to look at them eventually.
  • Pay Attention to Body Language – Smiles and attention are good, keep it up. Eating a cheesestick and turning their lower body, stop talking!
  • Be a Decision Maker – Quickly consider, make a choice, and stick with it. Mistakes are easy to learn from, you’ll only get better and making choices. Again, if you want to be successful, you’re going to have to perfect this eventually.
  • Pay Attention to Status – Know that asking a bunch of questions and looking around are a sign of deference. If you want to take charge, drop the question marks and make people give you what you want (even as you pay attention to their needs). 
  • Play to Personality (Mirroring) – Know your own personality type, and adjustments you might make when meeting or speaking to new people. Copy their language, posture, and personality.
My VP had never done improv, but after hearing of what you must pay attention to when “doing” it, he strongly encouraged that I continue. That, and to get a haircut, shave my chest, and call a lawyer, immediately.

This morning I rolled out of my catbed and into the Volvo so I could make it to Toastmasters at 8 AM. While I’m not yet an official member of the public speaking club, I have given a few speeches and have already been adopted as the club humorist.

I have ten clean jokes, and I've already used two at Toastmasters:
  1. On a Tyrannosaurs’ treasure map, Rex marks the spot.
  2. FrugaliTip: If you’re looking to save money, customize your credit card with your middle school class photo. You’ll never, ever use it.
Today the roasted Toasters asked me to give a two minute speech to a hypothetical class of 5th grade students on why I should be elected the next President. I improved the whole thing, running on the political platform that I would save America from itself by putting 5th  graders in charge of National Insecurity, renewable Razr scooters, and making sure no child read the Left Behind series.

It seemed so easy; definitely easier than the last time I gave an improved speech, last January. Be confident, move around, smile a lot, squeak a few times, and all of a sudden two minutes is up and you hear one coworker asking another what kind of mind-altering drugs she thinks I take on a weekday morning before the sun comes up.

Onward, to the benefits of weekly improv practice:
  • Toned Tweeting Muscles
  • Frictionless Friends – Great people with a variety of backgrounds who love to make you laugh. They get to see you screw up, you watch them waver, and suddenly you’re on the same team. No better way to build trust than by letting someone see you act like an idiot and make mistakes.
  • Better Working Memory – Talk about a short-term memory exercise; listening to and remembering what people say, act, and prefer.
  • Improved Spatial Awareness – “You’re standing behind me, aren’t you?”
  • Increased Work Output – When you start doing work right when it comes to you, you get more done! Multitask mastery.
  • Leading Group Conversations – A juggling analogy: It’s easier to keep multiple conversations in the air at once. Note: especially if you’re wearing the skin of a clown you killed.
  • Ideating/Initiating at Work – Having the confidence to voice ideas and take them from inception through the steps needed to reach completion.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Conversation with my Mind

In trying to figure out why my creative inertia disappears whenever I attempt any topic of a serious nature (or any project that requires consistency and more than an hour of effort) I decided to have a candid keyboard conversation with myself. Here it is:

"What I don’t understand is what the block is and where it comes from. I can write at will and dance across letters and topics and give the illusion of cohesion for the appropriate amount of time to appear coherent. But let me go for too long – or turn me on to a serious topic – and suddenly it’s clear I have no business being in the ring.
I’ve observed the obdurate nature and the design of the limits of my output. It’s as if a wall exists; imagine two points, one on this side, one on the other, and in between , forming the dividing line, is a wall of opacity. To see through it would take audacity and veracity of thought. It would take an attack.
I could sidestep the wall. It would be easy. Change tack, use a “workaround.” I’m sure there are many. I’m sure this has happened to others. I’m sure I could pick up a finger or two and then set them down along a keyboard and perform a search, looking to the advice of others. That works for many other parts of my life. I have consigned to the beauty of referential problem solving to find the answers to many of my problems. How to fix a broken faucet. How to make friends at a cocktail party. How to burn a hole through an ant with a magnifying glass. The answer to any of these can be found immediately.
So it follows that I could find what I need, if I wanted to. Immediately. I could find straight-forward instruction and advice on how to break a brain barrier. But that would rob my brain the ability to try and solve the problem on its own, and that’s exactly the problem. My brain needs it.
It craves that attention. That constant, pervasive thought that nothing is going to get done if I don’t do it. But existing simultaneously, the dichotomous, traitorous inkling: if I do that which needs to be done, there will be nothing left to do but wait for the next problem to come along. I would have to live in the moment. And that sounds like a risky proposition.
Given this, it is clear that what I need to do is simply convince myself that I’m being illogical and trust that the end result of my letting go of the need to have something to control will be a great and beneficial thing. To appeal to “benefits” is a crafty approach, as my personality, if not my brain, is built around the drive to acquire benefit. In that, the way I think, I think, is very primal.
But still, I refuse to step around the wall. I am not going to “knock down barriers” or “leap hurdles.” Instead, I'll “break protocol” and acknowledge the issue. The issue is: I crave the challenge but need the failure. I hold on to the failure. For if I let go of the failures: the failure to sink my teeth in, the aversion to create expectation of future perfection, the failure to failure, then I will be a whole new person.
I will suddenly be able to decide. No longer will I have to consider the opposition to each personal decision. Yes, I admit, it is vitally important to note close oppositional views in certain instances. To ignore 2nd and 3rd place would be to lose vital information. But in certain cases, ignorance in excellence. It is time to react. Internally, self-doubt needs to cease to exist. I need to discern the best instance of every instant and act upon that knowledge. Everything else is simply a distraction."