If there is one truth about The Great Pause, it is that we are all improvisers whether we like it or not. From the healthcare heroes on the frontlines deciding how to adapt in the moment to the onslaught of those struck with Covid 19 to the Fortune 500 behemoths shut down and putting thousands on furlough, everyone is trying to figure out how to move forward. There is only one solid truth that every single person will need to accept: We’re all Improvisers now. We’re reacting and initiating day by day if not hour by hour. But this is a good thing. Because if we do this correctly we will be able to adapt faster, listen to the data better, and be more agile then ever before.
Human’s like a plan. We like to settle into our ruts. The problem is that right now there is no there, there. No plan exists for the individual nor the organization that encapsulates how to navigate out of this current global pandemic. Looking to the past only brings small snapshots of possibilities but not the solution in the whole. That’s because one does not exist. We live in the most technologically advanced and integrated societies the world has ever seen so lessons from 1917 are hard pressed to solve issues of today. It is impossible to forecast with any certitude what the economic and medical outcomes will be going forward. The future will happen as it will happen and while some guesses might be partially correct most will be wildly inaccurate to the detriment of anyone following those prognosticators.
The last thing you want is a Captain to not have the vision to avoid the rocks near the shore. But what do we do when there is fog in every direction? We do what everyone has been doing since this “Great unknown” began: We Improvise. We adapt in the moment; Listen to the indicators; Decide to test and learn fast rather than hold back and miss the opportunity to recalibrate. This is true for the individual and the organization.
Improvisation is the art of reacting in the moment to the stimuli that is present. Onstage, improvisers follow a few simple rules to make sure that we can effectively move forward without fear. Does that sound good? Yes! Does it give you a map to follow? No. But we’re not looking for a map at this point. We’re looking for the tools that will allow us to progress forward. To move forward. By moving forward, we will collect the data necessary to begin planning. And when we find out that plan A won’t work we adapt quickly, or improvise, plan B and C and D and so on!
Here are the three simple rules of improvisation:
1. Yes And…: You’ve probably heard this one before. It means to agree and expand/explore. “Yes” doesn’t mean you agree to everything. It means you create an environment where ideas can be heard without fear. After you hear the ideas you explore or expand the ones that make the most sense. We don’t plant just one seed in a garden and hope for the best. We create a fertile ground and spread seeds so we have a healthy crop not just for this moment but for future moments as well.
2. Listen: This is key to hearing the ideas. Listening is not just waiting until someone else stops talking. Listening is truly stopping everything else that is going on in our monkey-like brains and focus on this very moment. It takes practice but it is critical to truly listen: to our team, to our experts, to our true center. Do not listen to your ego or your fears. They will try and get a word in edgewise but you can tell when they are talking because it is usually negative and selfish.
3. Do Not Deny: First, refer to rule one. Second, don’t say NO out of hand. We say no because new things fill us with fear. When we operate out of fear we serve our ego which is not looking out for our best interests. That’s not to say that NO is always a bad thing. It’s not. But ration out your No’s as if you only have so many for your entire life. You can disagree with someone without shooting down their idea.
The most important thing to know is that you are born with what it takes to improvise. All of us improvise naturally when we are children. Not to say this is childish but we are less filled with fear when we are younger. Fear has it’s place: don’t touch the hot stove is not the same lesson as don’t ever use the stove because it gets hot.
This is a time wrought with fear. Going forward we will need to adapt on the fly, explore and expand where we think we can, don’t allow our fear of what is new get in the way of our regrowth. We all have the tools. We just need to use them. We are all improvisers now. Welcome to the club!