(This is part one of a two-part article. The second part is here.)
Who knew play could be such a serious matter? Indeed, as one of last month’s Thrivability Montreal gatherings revealed, there’s reason to believe it’s humanity’s only hope for survival.
Our topic was Deep Play as a Powerful Technology to Create a New ‘Business as Usual’. The gathering featured the lovely and engaging Belina Raffy, who won me over in our first email exchange months earlier. The person introducing us mistakenly said that she was Canadian. She corrected him, writing: “I'm actually a Canadian want-to-be. I'm half French, half American, live in England and love nature – the combination of which I feel effectively makes me Canadian.”
Belina travels the world spreading Applied Improvisation, a set of mindsets and techniques designed to bring the emergent creativity and collaboration of theatrical improv into organizational settings for dramatically improved business results. During our two hours together, she taught us a handful of simple and powerful techniques that quickly created a roomful of converts to the value of play at work.
For example, she had pairs of people practice a conversation script in which one person proposes a non-work activity (“Let’s go see a movie!”) and the other responds positively (“Yes! What I like about your idea is....”) and then adds to the original offer (“and we could....”). Then the first person responds by building further on the idea using the same script, and back again, leading inevitably to hilarious results. The idea is first to practice acknowledging some specific value in what a person is offering, and second to practice building creatively on the emergent ideas you’ve been presented with. When I brought this activity to two client groups in the weeks that followed, I found that it created a collaborative attitude which served us well later in serious and even contentious work-related topics.
More generally, I learned from Belina that no meeting should ever be designed without movement and interaction. If you’re going to gather living, breathing, creative human beings in a room together, then don’t miss the chance to create the conditions for collaboration and inspiration to emerge. If you don’t plan to include these essential ingredients, then you should probably consider a simple email exchange rather than a meeting. I’ve begun experimenting with this approach, with great results. I’ve even started getting participants to move and dance as a way to teach them how organizations behave as living systems. And I’m astonished at the results. (Along those lines, here’s a fantastic TEDx video Belina just sent me about dance as an alternative to PowerPoint.)
Beyond helpful approaches and techniques, though, what struck me most was how Belina connected her work to thrivability – and even survivability. As she explained it, the overarching problems humanity faces are so complex and require such a high degree of creativity, collaboration and inspiration that applied improv may be the only effective means of solving them. Rational, linear, individually-generated solutions are simply not up to the task. The challenge, then, will be to find ways to play together even in the face of unthinkable disaster. All of this is at the heart of her forthcoming book, Using Improv to Save the World.
It seems that this is the challenge that Belina and I are embarking on together. We had such a great time collaborating while she was here – and we found such a high degree of resonance in our respective activities - that we’re cooking up a larger event in the summer of 2012. Stay tuned! You can be sure it’ll be fun!
Until then, go forth and play!