Sunday, February 03, 2008

Curious about Improvisation: How Much Does It Happen in Your Life and Different Situations?

Leadership is an improvisational art. The game . . . keeps changing. Competition keeps changing. So leaders need to change, to keep reinventing themselves. Leaders have to be ready to adapt, to move, to forget yesterday, to forgive, and to structure new roles and new relationships for themselves, their teams, and their ever-shifting portfolio of partners.” – Tom Peters, American businessman

It was the above quotation that gave me the idea to use “improvisation” for this week’s blog. Usually, when we think of improvisation we think – or, at least I do – of comedy groups and/or musicians, especially jazz.

Peters, however, made me consider improvisation in a whole new way. Working with a leadership group, I appreciate his focus on change and adaptability. I am pleased that he points out the newness and reinvention that is part of leadership today. We no longer adhere to the old version of the leader who says, “Do it, because I say so.” Thank goodness.

Besides the area of leadership, the art of improvisation can aid our presentation skills. I have several speaker and storyteller friends who have attended improvisational workshops and have found them to be a great help in relaxing and preparing them for a plethora of presentation challenges.

The other quotations I found were as interesting as always. Here are a few:
  • Improvisation is too good to leave to chance.” - Paul Simon, American musician
  • This deep feeling for the soul of common people; their life became the main impulse for musical improvisation before I learned the basics in piano.” - Modest Mussorgsky, Russian composer
  • Improvisation is terribly haphazard.” - Leo Ornstein, American composer
  • The genius of our country is improvisation, and jazz reflects that. It's our great contribution to the arts.” - Ken Burns, American director
  • Certain kinds of speed, flow, intensity, density of attacks, density of interaction... Music that concentrates on those qualities is, I think, easier achieved by free improvisation between people sharing a common attitude, a common language.” - Evan Parker, British musician
  • To write a book about improvisation is partly a contradiction in terms. Improvisation is spontaneous. It's in the moment.” - Sally Schneider, American writer
  • I never know what it's going to look like. Wouldn't be much point in painting if I already knew the outcome. I have a subject in front of me and I start flooding colour and making marks, I don't know, it's improvisation isn't it?” - Peter Wright, British celebrity
  • Out of 30 years of Second City I was probably the third African-American with the main stage cast. I was surprised when I first heard that. I think part of the reason that improvisation has never been popular with African-Americans is that it isn't popular in the inner cities.” - Tim Meadows, American comedian

I wonder how much you improvise. In selling, even when we are using a tested system, I feel that we still need to add our own personality to the script through improvisation. How about you? Do you make use of improvisation? I would love to know how.

I agree with Indian director Satyajit Ray who said, “There's always some room for improvisation.”