Cosmic resistance – When the world is against me

Emmet from the Lego movieYou have lead your audience past four types of resistance: 1. their doubts and reservations about their own suitability (Personal resistance), whether or not they can trust you (Relational resistance), the practicality of the solution (Practical resistance) and the people that would be on the journey with them (Social resistance). Now they look at their context and go: “Great plan, but life just doesn’t work that way”.  They look at their reality and say: “What if the solution or the people having to implement it fail?” I call this cosmic resistance.

Cosmic resistance is what happens when everything is lined up to go and your budget is cut, or a key player gets sick and unable to continue, or the equipment simply fails. Through no fault of yours, or the people trying to make the difference, it just fails. What then?

In stories this is that devastating moment where all seems lost. This is when Andy Dufresne, in Shawshank Redemption learns that his eye witness was murdered by the prison warden, when Brave Heart is betrayed by one of his own, when, in The Great Escape, the fleeing prisoners discover that their tunnel is a few feet short of the cover of the trees.

In situations like these stories provide only one response: Reframe.

The Blonde goes to the doctor complaining of aches all over her body. “Where does it hurt?” The doctor asks. Pointing to her left shoulder, then her nose and then her right calf she answers: “Here and here and here”. The doctor takes her hand gently examining it and says “My dear, your finger is broken.”

This is a reframe: when the perspective is shifted from the detail to the big picture.

The following is a story structure to help your client or participants create their own reframe.. It comes from the world of Applied Improvisation.

Step 1. Reflect on an issue in your personal or professional life that you would really like to change. Complete the following sentence:

Concerning this issue, I really want  … (fill in what it is that you want to see happen).

But… (list one to 3 things that are in the way of you achieving this outcome – things that are blocking or frustrating your efforts).

Step 2. Cross out the ‘But’ and replace it with the word ‘and’. Now the obstacles become mere conditions for the solution, they are no longer blocks.

Step 3. Complete a final sentence:

So what if … (what alternatives can you think of that accepts the conditions for the solution.)

Anexample from a workshop participant:

As the event co-ordinator of a large networking evening, I really want my guests to feel at home and set the scene for a wonderful event. I also want to enjoy the event myself.

But  AND I am not a good speaker, my hands shake and I am afraid I will forget important information. I stress so much that the whole evening is a blur usually.

So what if I rehearse a short welcoming speech to set the scene and then get an MC to co-ordinate the rest of the event, so I can sit back and enjoy it.

When all is lost, it is time for a reframe. A story that beautifully illustrates this reframe is the recent Lego movie. All seems lost when Emmet, the main character fall into the void, the abyss. His friends believe he is dead and their cause seems lost. In fact, Emmet simply falls off the table where the humans build their lego models. He is picked up by the boy playing there and from this big picture perspective Emmet’s entire world is reframed. With this insight he returns to save the day.

Reframing one’s failures and see them from a fresh angle can break through cosmic resistance.

In conclusion

It may seem as though a coach or facilitator needs to break through all five types of resistance before the learning can start. This is a deception: it is the very process of breaking through the different kinds of resistance itself that brings about learning and change. Once all five are eliminated around one particular idea, that idea had been accepted – learned.

What of applying the idea?

If you present and use talking to break through all the resistances, yes, then you have but pointed the way and your clients must still walk the path for themselves. But, if you coach and facilitate your way through then, the client is the one breaking through and the shift is not yours, but theirs. Though every new idea may need a new cycle of break through and it may feel like you are going in circles – it is each cycle of the wheel that makes the vehicle, and the client, move.

Need a coach?Contact Petro in Johannesburg or Burgert in Cape Town

Interested in a course in facilitation and coaching? Click here

Looking for an interactive session to ad ZING to  your event? Contact us.




The Playing Mantis training philosophy

Conventional, also called ‘authoritarian’ training philosophies are usually based on the idea that a student is a ‘tabula rasa’ or clean slate onto which knowledge must be transferred. They are empty vessels into which the trainer can pour information. In contrast contemporary inclusive training models view students as being rich with a personal body of knowledge acquired through experiences within unique contexts. Playing Mantis training follows this philosophy.

1. Training is a conversation not a monologue: for us training is no longer a top down one way process, but rather  a dialogical interaction between equal partners: trainer, trainee and  fellow trainees.

2. Trainees’ needs drive the learning, not the curriculum. : Where conventional training methods presume that there is a notional average learner at which training should be aimed and which determines the standard, we believe that no such assumptions can be made. Rather, an assessment of trainee’s needs and expectations must be made and the trainers own articulated. This is not a once off occurrence, but happens continuously throughout training.

3. Training is driven by difference not sameness: In other words, trainees do not form a more or less homogenous group and those who differ can be categorised. Rather, all people differ from each other and these differences are fundamental to our training planning and provision.

4. Training is facilitation, not transmission: As inclusive facilitators the focus of our training is not the content, and our role not to transmit it. Our focus is rather the trainee with their experience and our role is to facilitate the dialogue between the material and the trainee. We become mediators of knowledge, not transmitters of it.

5. Training is creating experience, not transmitting information: Our teaching aids are therefore not mere extensions of the trainer like a projector transmitting information where trainees participate mainly by looking (reading) and listening. Our learning aids, and indeed our entire methodology, aims to create or draw on experience where trainees can participate with as many faculties as possible. It is a whole brain, whole body approach.

6. Relevance is more important that accuracy: In our sessions we do not so much value questions relating to the material, but rather questions relating to the relevance of the learning for each participant’s individual job and personal journey.

7. There is more than one kind of knowledge:  In our training there is not just the trainer’s subject knowledge in the room, but also the tacit knowledge participants carry in their bodies, and the group genius that arises from the collaboration between trainees as they work to interpret and apply the knowledge.

8. Action and implementation speaks louder than words and learned answers: Responsibility and ownership of the learning becomes that of both trainer and trainees. Assessment then focuses not on the reproduction of knowledge taught, but on its integration and implementation in the workplace – not on words, but on action.

The role of improvisation

Acting in a set context without the benefit of scripted words and only the tacit knowledge accumulated through experience is called improvisation – the central concept around which our training revolves. Improvisation also draws on the ability of a group to generate solutions together and use dialogue to drive the story, and indeed the learning, forward.

Change 3 things


• Practice awareness skills.
• Practice creativity.
• Ice breaker.


In Pairs participants observe each other then turn around and change 3 things about their appearance. When they turn back to each other they must try to identify everything that their partner has changed.

Time: 10 min

Number of participants: 2 – 200

Game flow:

Ask all the participants to pair up. Tell them to observe each other. Then tell them to turn around and change 3 things about their appearance. For example role up one sleeve or take off an earring. Let them turn back to one another and try identifying everything that the partner has changed. You can repeat the game a few rounds, every time increasing the amount of changes.


People are often resistant to change their appearance but don’t let that flounder you. When people get over their initial resistance they will get great value from the exercise.

Debrief questions:

• What struck you about the exercise?
• How did you feel during the exercise?
• How was your awareness different than usual?
• Was it difficult or easy to find so many things to change about your appearance?

Yes and story


• Practice listening and awareness
• Practice accepting offers and building on them
• Practice focusing and reincorporating.


Participants tell a story in a circle, each participant contributing one sentence at a time.

Time: 20 min

Number of participants: 4-12

Game flow:

Have everyone sit in a circle. Get a name for an original story from the participants. Anyone in the circle may start to tell the story by saying an opening sentence. The person on their left then builds on the opening line by adding the next sentence to the story by starting their sentence with “yes and”. The person on their left then adds the next sentence also starting with “yes and.” Continue the telling of the story, each person starting their sentence with “yes and”, until it comes to a conclusion.


The easiest way to get a name for the story is to first get a name for the main character (ex. Jimmy). Then ask what Jimmy is (ex. a donkey). Then ask what the main character’s biggest challenge is (ex. to win the J&B Met). The name of the story could then be something like: “The day Jimmy won the J&B Med.”
Often people struggle to get the story to a conclusion. This could be a very interesting observation to debrief. When participants struggle to conclude the story, remind them of the title. For more advanced players you can tell the story without a title.

Debrief questions:

• What was interesting about this exercise?
• What made it difficult?
• What did you do to make it easier?
• What would you do next time to tell a better story?
• How did the title help or inhibit the story telling?

Variation: One word story

In this variation instead of contributing one sentence at a time the participants only contribute one word at a time.

Yes lets


• Build positive energy.
• Practice acceptance and appreciation.


Participants suggest random activities to be done by the group. The rest of the participants support these suggestions by responding enthusiastically with the words “Yes lets!” and then mime the suggested activities eagerly.

Time: 15 min

Number of participants: 6 – 20

Game flow:

Have everyone walk around in the space. Tell them that anyone in the group can make a suggestion for an action such as “Let’s climb a tree!” or “lets bake a cake!” Everyone then replies with the words “Yes lets!”, and mimes the action with enthusiasm. At any point someone else can make a new suggestion and everyone replies again with “Yes lets!” and again mimes the action. Continue until everyone has made at least one suggestion.


For this exercise you need enough space for everyone to move around.
Encourage everyone in the group to make at least one suggestion.

Debrief questions:

• How do you feel after playing this exercise?
• What was interesting about the exercise?
• How did it feel to have your suggestions supported with so much enthusiasm?
• How did it feel to support other’s ideas with so much enthusiasm?


The best way to make your team members look good is by accepting their suggestions and doing the action with enthusiasm. If someone said something like “let’s roar like lions” and just did it by himself, he would look like a fool and probably feel like one as well. What I love about this game is that you don’t just say yes I like your idea; you actually have to accept the idea by doing something with commitment. Often we will say we accept someone’s ideas but it’s just lip service, because we don’t actually take any action. The safety, trust and support that is generated when everyone in the team is committed to making the rest of the team look good, creates a energetic atmosphere in which innovation can thrive.



• Building energy.
• Accepting offers.
• Practice appreciation.
• Practice creativity.


Participants hand each other imaginary gifts. The giving participant only makes a physical offer, while the receiving participant names the gift and accepts it with enthusiasm.

Time: 15 min

Number of participants: 2 – 200

Game flow:

Have the participants stand in a circle. If there are more than 12 players let them pair up. Tell them to hand each other imaginary gifts. The giver only makes a physical gesture with their hands. The receiver then justifies the shape and weight of the giver by naming it appropriately. The receiver over accepts the gift with enthusiasm as if it is the one thing they have always wanted.


When doing the game in a circle let them pass gifts around the circle. In other words everyone gives a gift to the person on their left or right. Only one person gives a gift at a time while the others observe. When doing it in pairs the partners just give each other gifts.

Debrief questions:

• What was interesting about the exercise?
• How did it feel to have your gift appreciated like this?
• What did it feel like receiving the gift?
• How does this apply to creativity and collaboration?

Online adaptations

Since people in an online room cannot stand in a circle or make eye contact to connect with each other, the following adaptations can be made:

  1. The names of participants are visible on the screen, these names may be changed by participants if they wish. These names can be used in the game so that the participant wanting to pass a gift simply call the name of the person they wish to pass their gift to before doing so.
  2. Participants may also be given a number alongside their name as they enter the room. These numbers may be used to establish an order and in this manner replace the convention of a circle for deciding order.
  3. Encourage people to use distance from the camera as a way to create variety in the size and quality of the gift:  move away from the camera for big gifts that require large movements and come closer for smaller gifts and smaller movements.

Walking exercise


• Illustrates the art of creative leadership.
• Practices giving and taking control.
• Practices awareness and focus.
• Practices collaboration.


Participants walk around in the space. In the first round everyone stops and starts walking when the facilitator claps their hands. In the last round everyone stops and starts at the same time without the facilitator clapping their hands.

15 min

Number of participants: 6 – 50

Game flow:

Have the participants walk around the space spreading them evenly across the floor. Tell them to stop when you clap your hands and to start walking when you clap again. Do this for a while varying the intervals. Then tell the participants that they have to do exactly the same thing, walking and stopping at the same time without you clapping your hands.


It is important that the participants do not talk during the exercise.

Debrief questions:

• What was interesting about the exercise?
• What was different between the first and second round?
• Who was in control in the first and second round?
• Which round did they enjoy the most?
• What does this game reveal about leadership?

Mirror mirror


• Illustrates the art of creative leadership.
• Practices giving and taking control.
• Practices awareness and focus.
• Practices collaboration.


In pairs participants mirror each other’s movement. First only one player leads while the other follows. In the last round they give and take control.

Time: 15 min

Number of participants: 2 – thousands (You’ll just need a stage and a sound system so that everyone can hear and see you)

Game flow:

Ask everyone to pair up with another person and stand facing each other. Each pair should decide who will be A and who will be B. Tell them that A is a person looking into a mirror and B is the mirror. B should therefore copy A’s exact movement. After a few minutes tell them to switch. A is therefore now the mirror and B the person looking into the mirror. After B has had a chance to lead for a few minutes, tell them that they have to now both lead and follow at the same time. They are therefore both looking into the mirror and being the mirror simultaneously. Now it gets really interesting. For it to work both need to take the lead and give up the lead, give and taking control the whole time. If the participants trust each other and are completely present in the moment they will go into a state of flow in which control will dissolve.


The idea is not that the participants should try and outwit each other by making sudden movements. The idea is that they work together and move like they are one so that an observer wouldn’t be able to see who is leading and who is following.

It works best if the participants make smooth movements, not quick jerky movements.

Request that participants do the exercise in complete silence.

Debrief questions:

• What was interesting about the exercise?
• What was easier, leading, following or doing both?
• Which one did you enjoy most?
• Which one was the most creative?
• How does this apply to leadership?

Circus bow


• Illustrates the improv practise of accepting mistakes.
• Building trust
• Encourages risk taking and creating a safe climate.


In a circle participants each get a chance to step forward, say “I failed” and bow.  After each bow the rest of the participants give a warm round of applause.

Time: 10 min

Number of participants: Any (for larger groups, or where participants seem cautious and tense , divide them in smaller circles or in pairs)

Game flow:

Have the participants stand in a circle.  Tell them that everyone will get the chance to step forward into the circle, then say anything in the line of “I made a mistake” or “I failed” and then give a big bow.  The rest of the group then give a round of applause.


If the group is very comfortable with each other let them share a real mistake or failure.   When sharing is personal and authentic it paves the way to vulnerability and this enhances experiences immensely.

This exercise is called circus bow, because whenever a trapeze artist makes a mistake and falls down into the net, he will make a summersault out of the net and bow towards the audience as if that was exactly what was supposed to happen.

This exercise may seem silly in writing, but try it and see what surprising results you get.  Remember in order to be brilliant you have to risk being foolish.

Debrief questions:

• How did it make you feel being applauded for stating that you made a mistake?
• How did it feel to applaud the others?
• What can we learn from this exercise?
• How can we help each other to feel safe to take risks?

Improvisation class 1 – The power of vulnerability

Basic human contact – the meeting of eyes, the exchanging of words – is to the psyche what oxygen is to the brain. If you’re feeling abandoned by the world, interact with anyone you can.
Martha Beck – oh Mrs Beck, how wise you are. For it is in human interaction where life happens.

This blog is the first in a series of 8 to follow after each workshop in the Level One Improvisation Course. It will serve as a space and platform to say things you may have thought of on the way home from class, to share thoughts relating to our course ,that occur when you are at work and also for you to cement the concepts we practised in your mind.

Last week we were a large, brave group embarking on a “Survival of the authentic and the vulnerable” journey. A journey that fosters courage to be yourself in a safe space. I think it’s important to just commend you right here for taking that bold step into the unknown and engaging with themes and activities that may fall well outside of your daily path.

The workshop’s theme was “Play”, but as we progressed I realised it was more about vulnerability. We don’t always see the force hidden inside this gentle word.

First up was “What I need  to say”
This is a simple exercise where participants pair up and each person is afforded an opportunity to state what they need to say to be fully present. In other words… thoughts keep us from being present. Either thoughts of the past or thoughts of the future. This exercise helps bring us into the light and into the present moment. The packing power of the exercise lies in the fact that our partner repeats our exact words back to us and vice versa… So not only can you say what you need to say, but you are ensured that someone is listening.

Then we paired up again and played “ Super Hero Stories” . In this game we ask our partners to tell us 2 things. 1. The story of their name…it’s origin and meaning and 2. Why they joined the class. We as the partners have to listen carefully to what the other person says as we will need to not only repeat the information, but we’ll introduce our partner to the rest of the class…and in addition to this we will add a superhero characteristic to our partner… We make them look good. This is FUNDAMENTAL in becoming a good improviser and a happy human. Focus not on yourself, but on your partner, and make them look good.

Next up was “Name Circle”. In this exercise participants stand in a circle.  One player makes eye contact with another player and walks toward them.  That person must then make eye contact with another player and walk towards them.  This is a great game to learn everyone’s names and react in the moment.

After this we played a set of games all relating to each other… “ 123” , “I failed” and “123 sentences”.

In 1 2 3 participants pair up again and one after the other count to 3. Person A starts by saying 1, Person B then follows with 2 and person A ends with 3… sounds easy, but not so simple… some of us tried to establish the pattern, some of us were rushed and forgot the sequence.. and then to add to the challenge, the nr 1 was replaced with a sound and a move. So now person A make a sound and a move and person B responds with 2, person A ends with 3 and then person B starts with the sound and move. Then more layers were added. We ended up with no numbers, only sounds and moves. This games teaches us to stay put in the moment, to challenge old habits and to focus on our partners.

Inevitably , everyone made a mistake. This brought us to the next FUNDAMENTAL in improvisation… there are no mistakes. Mistakes are embraced and celebrated by accepting them and then building on them. Here Burgert taught us the “circus bow”. In this game participants each get a chance to step forward, say “I failed” and bow.  After each bow the rest of the participants give a warm round of applause.

Lastly we played “ 123 sentences” , a wonderful game for teaching us to listen and respond in the moment without planning.

And this is only the beginning. Improvisation is a new language that will help you to connect with yourself, others and your own unique creativity.
Looking forward to seeing you at the next class.


Ps.  Check out this TED Talks by Brene Brown about the Power of Vulnerability