Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien on Improvisationally Speaking
Improvisationally Speaking: Episode 4 with special guest, Seattle City Councilmember, Mike O’Brien
Seattle City Councilmember, Mike O’Brien has a tough but rewarding job. As a council member, it is his job to serve his constituency and to do what he knows in right. But sometimes doing both of these at the same time is impossible. How does he communicate effectively and effect the kind of change he is charged to bring to the city of Seattle while being under the microscope of the public eye? This discussion reveals some of Mike O’Brien’s methods, and they are surprisingly based on the principles of improvisation.
Company Team Building, Communication, Improv Alive exercise
Despite a most unfortunate name, this is possibly the greatest teamwork-fostering, ice-breaking, group-energizing warm-up improv game ever created. We at Improv Alive like this game so much, we try to incorporate it, in one form or another, into almost every business improvisation workshop we lead. Pass the Clap is all about shifting your focus from internal (introspective), to external (extrospective), out to the other members of the team. It is a terrific ice-breaker and bonding exercise, but the real power of this exercise is in its ability to cause each player to forget about how embarrassed he or she is to be doing improv in front of his company co-workers, and focus fully on what everybody else is doing, and how he can keep the exercise going!
This exercise is especially helpful for teams that are challenged communicating with each other. We strongly advise engaging your team in or out of the office in a quick 5-10 minute session of Pass the Clap before an important meeting, or collaborative event in order to start things off with an extra boost of energy and team focus. This game works equally well for CEO’s, managers, sales professionals, customer service reps, developers and librarians alike! Enjoy and Happy Holidays from Improv Alive.
PASS THE CLAP (aka: PASS THE FOCUS):All participants in a circle. Doug establishes eye contact with anyone in the circle and he leads that person in a single unison CLAP. Then that person makes eye contact with another random person in the circle and leads that person in a single unison clap, and so on.. the ‘Clap’ (or Focus) gets passed randomly around the circle. The idea is to establish a rhythm and always keep your body ready, your energy high and your focus broad, so you are open and ready to establish eye contact and clap on rhythm.For an additional challenge, try it while moving randomly around the space.
Here are 14 guiding principles to help keep you engaged, authentic and self-empowered as you gallop into the year of the HORSE:
Make friends with FAILURE: The difference between the Master and the Beginner is that Master has failed more times than the Beginner has even tried. The moment that you can truly be absolutely cool with the possibility that you may fail at a given activity, you have learned the most valuable lesson. Then, the world is your oyster!
Listen. No, REALLY Listen: Humans have five physical senses. Hearing is only one of them, but LISTENING requires at least two at a time.
Play more: Side effects include increased cognitive function, lowered blood pressure, improved motor response, improved problem-solving skills and more FRIENDS.
Ditch Perfectionism: Mistakes are an invaluable part of the human experience. Consider the invention of Penicillin, Potato Chips, Fireworks, and the Slinky.. All accidents! Boo-yah!!
Refocus to the Present: It’s easy to let your mind drift or become distracted from the person or task that you’re with right now. Stop and gently refocus.
Take 1 single ACTION Today: No matter how small, how easy, commit to one single ACT (not plan, not research, but an actual “DO”).
Try saying “Yes”: At some point this coming year, you’re going to be in a position where you will reject someone’s idea for whatever reason. In that moment, ask yourself if there is an infinitesimal chance that you could be wrong, and if there is, try accepting the idea and notice what happens.
Build-Up instead of Tare-Down: The next time you find yourself compelled to cynicism or negativity in a business meeting, (and we’ve ALL been there), go against your emotion and deliberately try accepting and building on the idea and see what happens.
Try something NEW: Even if it’s just a different route to the coffee station. A tiny change can make ALL the difference.
Complement a Stranger: Try throwing out the old adage “Don’t talk to strangers” as you ride up the escalator, or wait in the check-out line. Are you scared you’ll be seen as a “weirdo” if you speak up? Hog-wash! That’s just FEAR talkin’.
Give Anonymously: Even if it’s just a nice note left on the table for your server; Doing something for someone without expectation or credit is an act of grace.
A Moment of Gratefulness: Spend 10-SECONDS of the day today simply thinking of something you’re grateful for in your life.
Don’t Worry, Think Rhino!: This one is courtesy of my wise father. Most of the things we humans worry about on a daily basis aren’t worth the amount of worry we put into them! Whenever you start to worry, think of a Rhinoceros.. Really get mentally specific; the skin texture, the ear hair, the cracks in the horn.. REALLY focus in on it. Notice what soon starts to happen.
SAY IT!: “I’m glad that you’re my friend”, “I Love You”, “Thank You”.. What a wonderful thing to hear from anybody, and it takes all of a second or so to do it.
Bridging the gap between Business and Improvisation
There is a recurring question that I have been grappling with an effective answer to now for almost a year. Myself being an artist & business leader, I already get the power of improvisation to effect change in teams & organizations. I’ve seen it, been a part of it.. I trust it!
However, as a teacher of improvisation in the world of business and higher education, I am constantly in the position of conveying this value to business and academic leaders who are looking for something more.. concrete, specific. Less conceptual and general.
The world in to which I’m trying to bring improvisation is constantly looking for the solution to their specific problem(s), they want to define the ROI, they want to see an outline with benchmarks. I find it next to impossible to avoid trying to fit improv into a box in order to cause my prospective clients to realize the value of subjecting their employees, students or clients to improvisational workshops.
Here is a Saturday morning attempt.. a thought journey, if you will:
I liken the practice of improvisation to the practice of lifting weights: You don’t pump iron just so you can lift weights better, you pump iron to tone your muscles which you will then use more efficiently in your daily life. In the same way, improvisation is not the result. It isn’t even the direct solution to the result. When people intentionally improvise, they use their brains in new and unfamiliar ways, and when these activities are introduced in the context of ‘play‘, ‘fun‘ or ‘exploration‘, people tend to lower their defenses and engage. Practicing improvisation is all about listening, accepting & supporting other’s ideas, and building, building, building.
Is there anyone out there who would prefer less listening?
Less supporting? Less building in their organization?
Finally, Pumping iron is SEXY, and so it’s commonly practiced. The practice of improvisation, however, is generally considered to be only for Artists or Comics. The more we can change this stigma, the more improvisation will be adopted in business, education, and the world.
I believe that creativity comes as standard equipment in humans. The trick to fostering creativity in an organization is to find a way to allow each person to discover that creativity within themselves. This is a scary thing for almost everybody to do! We all seem to have this deep fear of failure. “Screwing up” is almost always not an option. The higher one’s position in an organization, the more pressure that person often feels to “perform well”. So, along the way, we become conditioned to hide our mistakes and apologize when we don’t perform the way we think we’re expected to. This is where many of us forget the gift we were given at birth. Luckily, this is also where the magical fundamentals of improvisation step in to restore that understanding.
If you want to make your muscles stronger what do you have to do?? exercise them. If you want to be able to play the Moonlight Sonata on the piano, what must you do? Practice, make mistakes, Practice, make mistakes, and Practice some more.
If you want to be more creative, be a better communicator in your place of work.. It’s no secret.. You must exercise and practice!
Chief Spontaneity Officer