10 Chapters
Medium 9781626560475

THREE OOPS!

Hough, Karen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

There’s a great concept in improvisation. It’s called “Oops to Eureka!” On the improv stage — heck, on any stage — things go wrong sometimes. Or they change, not in a worrisome way, but an unexpected way. “Oops” is the response when we realize something unexpected has happened. The key is to make those instances become “Eurekas” rather than disasters. This might require quite a change in mindset for many people. It’s hard not to minimize or walk away from our Oops moments. In improv, we’re not allowed to ignore the unexpected. We’re obligated to acknowledge it and keep it in the show. In reality, the unexpected is improv’s stock in trade. Even within our own troupes, we’re constantly trying to surprise each other with unexpected suggestions and scenes.

Scientists do the same thing: they never assume to know the outcome; they embrace “mistakes” or the unexpected as fully as they do the predictable. The questions become “What wonderful thing will happen now that the agenda has flown out the window?” “What discovery will be made?”

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Medium 9781605095851

The Fourth Secret of Improvisation Oops to Eureka!

Hough, Karen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Your last troupe member, who has not been involved up to this point, comes to the front of the stage and translates the whole song into sign language. The audience already is roaring, but this new addition really makes them scream.

There are slight lulls between verses of the songs, and just a minute after the sign language translator has come forward, a woman in the front row stands up to leave. In one of the lulls, everyone can clearly hear her say, “This is stupid. He’s faking. To make fun of sign language this way is offensive. I’m leaving.”

The whole audience stops laughing as she struggles to get down the aisle. Your troupe member is unsure how to finish the song, and the wind has gone out of the performance. It’s like a train wreck. Suddenly, you leap forward and go down on your knee in front of the woman trying to leave.

“I beseech you: save us from this horribly translated foreign film! I’m not a cannibal; I’m just badly translated! Save the day and be our translator! We never meant to offend anyone. Please help us do this right.”

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Now Get Out There!

Hough, Karen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

NOW GET OUT THERE!

The CFO of a multibillion-dollar healthcare company once addressed an internal group of young leaders. He talked about meetings and presentations to stockholders and how tough those could be. The best part of his speech, however, was how he embraced his badness. He talked about how his “bad presentations” were an asset to his career and company. You see, his delivery was not polished — it was down-to-earth, focused on the market, and extremely casual. He stood in stark contrast to the CEO, who was a consummate salesman, very energetic, and decidedly polished. The cool part was that they both realized that they made the perfect team. Stockholders need to hear about excitement and growth plans from a charismatic leader. But when it comes to the numbers and the tough questions, they want to hear it from someone who comes across as fair, honest, and approachable. For this guy, it was like a badge of honor — people trusted him more for his imperfection. He was being his bad self in the best way.

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The Second Secret of Improvisation Building Blocks

Hough, Karen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

So, without a net, you step out and proclaim, “I feel like a rutabaga!”

The crowd titters, but you don’t know what to say next. Silence stretches out in front of you and you start to get warm around the armpits. Before you know it, a hand slaps you on the shoulder and one of your troupe says, “Yes, and you look like one, too!” The crowd laughs loudly, and she adds, “Now, I happen to prefer tomatoes for a date, but a rutabaga should mix it up a little.”

Four more members of your troupe leap out in front of you, making a small table and two chairs with their bodies. You both “sit” and a fifth person steps up with his arm crooked and says in a French accent, “And may I take your order, Monsieur Rutabaga and Mademoiselle Boston Lettuce?”

Mademoiselle Boston Lettuce hums over a “menu” suddenly supplied by the hand of her “chair,” which has reached around to give her something to read. She exclaims, “Yes! And I’ll have the photosynthesis shake with a side of good topsoil . . .”

You’re back onstage!

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ONE: THE BADDEST WAY TO PREPARE

Hough, Karen Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

There’s just too much going on in presentations: information to remember, slides crammed with data, your pulse racing, and all those rotten rules to follow. Focus, people, focus! You need to peel away the excess stuff that gets in the way of efficient, authentic presenting.

Let’s put on our geek hats and consider why this matters. Neuroscience is uncovering more and more information about the importance of focus. David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz have done insanely cool research into how our brains connect to our leadership abilities and to our everyday human behavior. As we dump behaviors that stand in our way (i.e., break old rules) and replace them with new ways to focus our thoughts and energy, we are actually rewiring our brains. Being ourselves becomes easier and easier if we focus on it.

Over time, paying enough attention to any specific brain connection keeps the relevant circuitry open and dynamically alive. These circuits can then eventually become not just chemical links but stable, physical changes in the brain’s structure… the brain changes as a function of where an individual puts his or her attention. The power is in the focus.1

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