I was invited to run a networking session at the Creative Approach Summit. We called it Improvising Recipes for Success and began with a gentle activity to address all three theme words in the title.
‘What quality do you bring to this conference, your work, your life?’ I asked. And to make it more of a challenge, how about a quality that starts with the same first letter as your name?
For example, ‘I’m Paul, and the quality I bring is Patience’. Admittedly that’s a bit of a generous description for someone with my equally-active trait of Wanting-to-get-on-with-things, but they got the idea.
A cascade of good qualities showered in; Fun, Care and Liveliness among them.
This simple introductory activity engages everyone in an improvisational experience, practicing Freedom Within Structure. In this case, it’s a tight structure, requiring a single word starting with a specified letter.
Someone wrote a three-word phrase, an easy expansion of the suggested structure, which gives us clues on how structures may not be as rigid as the facilitator has described them. If the answer still serves the purpose, that’s fine. There’s no special reason for sticking to my arbitrarily created structure in this case. Another time I might introduce the task as ‘a word or short phrase’, if thinking it might prompt a more fruitful response.
Many facilitators find it helpful to think in terms of Structures and their concomitant Freedoms, especially when they are designing and running activities that aim to engage their participants at appropriate levels of safety, risk and challenge.
The activity also orients us towards ‘Success’, in at least two ways. Choosing their word reminds each person of the various personal qualities and resources that they’ve used in their professional and personal accomplishments to date. And so they are articulating at least one ingredient of their personal recipes for success.
And second they have experienced the success of fulfilling this introductory challenge. I’d taken a guess that this would be a pretty easy, though not too trivial task, for attendees at an improvisation conference. I do know that in corporate settings, participants occasionally struggle to share a word here. When that happens, I’ve ‘loosened’ the structure by inviting other members of the group to suggest words that might work. These serve as offers from which the participant may pick.
The conference networking group also discussed the third component of the title – recipes. Several reminded us that when cooking they rarely followed every instruction of a recipe exactly to order. They tended to take the framework as a helpful structure. Equipped with their ingredients and a step-by-step process, they felt confident to depart from the script. For example, a listed ingredient might be missing, so they’d substitute something else. And they were happy to experiment with a bit more or less of this or that, testing for taste as they went along.
Those behaviours illustrate useful improvisational tips in these very natural everyday actions. For example:
- Inhabit the moment – stay alert to opportunities to change during a process, noticing what difference each addition to the mix is making
- Accept and Build – use what’s there (you can’t use what’s not there, so complaining is a waste of time) by accepting the ingredients to hand, and building a new (new to you, for sure) dish from those resources
- Spot Successes – keeping those elements that work, and leaving behind the mixes that don’t work so well, for an improved end result
If the baking turns out well, then remembering or documenting the new recipe adds to our stockpile of useful process that we can repeat, ideally on demand. And note, we are unlikely to keep and share all the recipes that didn’t work so well – an unhealthy attention on mistakes and failures along the way would appeal only to poisoners or those whose perverse ambition was to spread second-rate cooking. A book of heroic recipe failures might be entertaining – there’s a joy to be had in watching others fail, and the Germans even have a word for it. But it would not be the top purchase for anyone wanting to tap into practical knowledge about how to create nourishing meals.
If you’d like to explore improvising your organisation’s recipes for success, do please email us –firstname.lastname@example.org – to set up a chat soon.