I spent a day last week with a group of people who were happy to begin the day with no agenda.  The starting point was “A conversation about who we are and what matters to us is an action”  from Peter Block’s book  The answer to how is yes.

During the day, the team explored six principles of improvisation starting with a series of quotes from Robert Poynton’s Everything’s an Offer – how to do more with less, and Patricia Ryan Madson’s Improv Wisdom – don’t prepare, just show up.

The six principles were: Start anywhere - Use everything - Notice more - Let go – Be average - Say yes

Here’s are some snippets that emerged from their conversations.

Start anywhere

“Improvisers … distinguish between action and activity.  If someone is changed by what happens they call it action.  If not, it is activity.  … Embracing change in this way is not an attitude many people habitually adopt.  Yet how can an organisation learn, or create action, if the people in it don’t.” Robert Poynton

I plant supposedly impossible seeds in conversation, then if something comes of it, we get going.

We said – let’s go see [….a person…..] and see what happens.  Something did happen.

I realise that my presentations are becoming more ad lib – I am getting better at just turning up and starting anywhere with a new group of clients.

On [one large project], we knew and trusted the formula, so we just set the date and went for it.

Use everything

“The focus of the conversation (could) be “what can we make with the idea of a ……. .” instead of “Do we like a …… or not?”   Thus seeing things as offers leads to the kind of conversation which automatically generates new actions, ideas and energy.  And think of the effect that this behaviour has on people around you.  Who would you rather work with, talk to, or go on a journey with?  Someone who consistently looks for ways to use whatever is happening? Robert Poynton

The [….] project began out of nothing.  All we had was our networks and contacts.

A recent conversation switched from “what are we going to do without this” to “what do we have – as the list started to flow, energy levels changed.”

I think we use everything every day.  We just don’t notice that we do.

In future, we could notice everything we have (skills, knowledge, resources) before we act, including opportunities that we haven’t seen yet.

Notice more

“Being present allows you to pick up the clues that enable you to choose the path to take through the territory you have prepared”. Rob Poynton

As a team, we’re good at noticing what’s important to our clients and their needs, because that’s our focus.

What if we missed THE conversation by not noticing it, by being caught up in our own thoughts?

We could take care to notice that we are working with a shared focus and not at cross purposes.  For example, are there operational anomalies getting in our way?

We could notice where we are making assumptions that get in the way of us understanding where the needs of our service are.

Let go

”Are there times when you have avoided speaking because you thought that you lacked preparation or didn’t know which words to use?  When the human heart has something to say, saying it is always timely.  Improvisers always speak without a plan.  Discover the freedom that comes when you trust that you have what you need.  Remember, there is always something in the box.” Patricia Madson

Before, we used to introduce process changes to our clients. Now we ask them to let us know what they need.

In IT, we let go of old ways constantly when new applications and new software are implemented.

We could let go of expectations and assumptions we hold.

Be average

“Giving up on perfection is the first step; the next is to stop trying to come up with something different.  Striving for an original idea takes us away from our everyday intelligence, and it can actually block access to the creative process.  There is a widespread belief that thinking “outside the box” … means going after far-out and unusual ideas.  A true understanding of this phrase means seeing what is really obvious, but, up until then, unseen.” Patricia Madson

The […] is a great example of offering an ‘ordinary’ service to the client base.  It has made an extraordinary difference to their lives.  That was ‘giving the obvious a try’.

We could be careful with expectations of ourselves and of others.  Those expectations may be blocking us and them.

We could get the basics working well.  It’s not about getting things perfect.

Say yes

“Saying yes (and following through with support) prevents you from committing a cardinal sin – blocking.  Blocking comes in many forms;  it is a way of trying to control the situation instead of accepting it.  We block when we say no, when we have a better idea, when we change the subject, when we correct the speaker, when we fail to listen, or when we simply ignore the situation.  ….. Saying no is the most common way we attempt to control the future.” Patricia Madson

Showing up is like saying yes.

This is hard.  We could help each other be aware of when we are blocking and help each other to be more open to offers.

We’ll use new question starters, like “What can we make of the idea of …..?” when proposing new ideas.

Lynn Walsh – workshop and meeting facilitator – Sydney- business and strategic planning – team conversations

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2 comments until now

  1. How very kind of you to refer to my book, Improv Wisdom with such generosity! Nothing makes a writer happier than to learn that readers have found their writing useful. It’s true that the spirit and guidelines used to improvise can be used by businesses and facilitators to move forward. You write a wonderful blog. My husband is an avid genealogist. I’ll bet he can find some way that you and I are related! ;-)
    Warm regards,
    Patricia Ryan Madson
    El Granada, California

    Patricia, thank you for taking the time to comment. It’s made my morning! I am so grateful that tools like blogging and social media enable us to connect with people whose work we appreciate.

  2. David Herbert picked up this post on his blog – lightmoments. http://blackstairs.blogspot.com/2010/04/improvising.html

    Sunday, 11 April 2010


    Lynn Walsh blogs from Australia as a facilitator. She wonders how possible it is to enter conversations/meetings/training without an agenda, and she refers to a meeting that she had recently with people who were prepared to begin with no agenda. She refers to several resource books which have gone on my wish list because I am so intrigued and she quotes Robert Poynton:

    “Improvisers … distinguish between action and activity. If someone is changed by what happens they call it action. If not, it is activity. … Embracing change in this way is not an attitude many people habitually adopt. Yet how can an organisation learn, or create action, if the people in it don’t.”

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