The Applied Improvisation Conference in Amsterdam

Street Café in Amsterdam

Schipol International Airport taunted me like Huckleberry to Tom – daring him to trust a raft made of sweat, spit and good old fashioned nylon rope. My heart and stomach clung awkwardly to the Boeing’s ceiling, unconvinced of a safe landing….both on the runway and on the stage. My husband reminded me of a Sunday afternoon frozen yoghurt in Stellenbosch…were we in the same aircraft?

The landing gear brushed the runway with an impressionists, well, impression. We were is Van Gogh’s valley. Land of Bicycles , Stroopwafels, Marijuana, Heineken & Bitterballen…

The AIN conference was scheduled from the Thursday morning until the Sunday afternoon. Our venue…The Felix Meritis, staircases’ would be home to 24 accents trading experiences, laughter and general out of breathness as the building was spread over 5 floors.

As an introvert, the idea of 3 people crammed days was daunting to me. The deer caught in the headlights image pops to mind.  Beautifully contrasted with this thought was my husband… a healthy, well fed wild mustang…energized by the breathing in and exhaling of gusts of words from strangers about to become friends.

We both joined Adrian Jackson’s pre conference workshop on Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the oppressed” on Thursday… “Yes, an additional day with, what my very unhelpful conscience, proceeded to tell me, were people living the Improvisation dream. I had recently fallen in love with it, but we were by no means an item in my eyes yet…unbeknownst to me…Improv had found its soul mate, and he was planning to propose every day from then on for the rest of my life, and I was going to say yes.

Have you ever met really nice people from a certain country at different intervals in your life? They inadvertently form your opinion of that country. Improv people are like that country; I have never met an improviser I didn’t like. They are open, accepting, honest and possess an enviable children’s quality called a sense of wonder.

Come Friday, fear slept late and I attended a workshop by myself whilst Burgert sat in on another. His was on “Deepening your Debrief”, the key element of an Applied Improvisation Learning Experience, and mine was on “Status, the language for describing and understanding situations”…I hope these sound like exotic dishes, because they are, but with that “home cooking” edge to them. Oh, but the nourishment was no where near finished. Next up was a workshop by the marvelously honest and down to earth  Marjin Visser on “Prejudice, and how to be playful with it”

Make you partner cook good

Saturday, fear was up before I was. I could have sworn I smelled it smoking a cigarette on the porch, nervously tapping its foot. Burgert and I were presenting our “Make your Partner cook good “a cooking workshop for couples later that afternoon. Burgert and I had attended pre marital classes based on Imago relational therapy and were so moved by the principles that we designed a workshop that married it with our other great passions – Improvisation and Creative cooking. We had presented this to test couples in South Africa and were left speech less at the beauty of 2 people working at a relationship.
My fear, in retrospect, was that I would be out of my depth. But, the thing with relationships is – if you’re in a committed one…it is a ship, and it will float and brave every storm without fear of failure.

We started our day with 2 different sessions again:
I joined Amy Carrol – her topic was “Are you predator, pray or partner?”, The Art and Science of Positive Influence. Burgert found his way to “Creative Conflict Resolution” with Barbara S . Tint. These are 2 remarkable women with finesse for performance with depth.

Just after lunch we both attended the “Hero’s Journey as a universal pattern for Personal and Cultural change in Organizations” …again, rich with content and the freedom of expression.

And then we were up… The proof is in the pudding. The feedback ( I love this word) on our workshop was down right pleasing  and instilled a quiet confidence that what we do has the potential to make a lasting difference.

As we flew home the next Sunday I closed my eyes somewhere in mid flight and smiled…for I was in the absence of fear.

Team Innovation through Improvisation – Part 5

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.


How to build team relationships that promote innovation.

The relationships between the members of an innovative team are based on trust and support. Your responsibility towards yourself is to be trusting and trustworthy, whilst your responsibility towards the rest of the team is to support them. The phrase we use in Improvisation to describe this element is “make your partner look good”. When everyone in the team is out to make the rest of the team look good it creates a safe environment where everyone feels safe to share new ideas. We are so used to just making our selves look good, but if you know that everyone in your team is out to make you look good it takes a lot of pressure from your shoulders and it builds trust between you and the rest of the team. Besides ,everyone in the team will look amazing if there are 10 others making them look good instead of everyone just trying to make themselves look better than the rest.

Quick exercise:

Here is a fun game from improvisation theatre that illustrates the “make your partner look good” concept very well. The game is called “Yes lets!” For this exercise you need enough space for everyone to move around. The game starts with anyone in the group making 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!”

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.

Make your partner look good story

Last night my wife told me a beautiful story about how a family made their mother look good by accepting an offer and doing something with it. In this story the offer the mother made wasn’t an idea; it was a reality that was imposed on her without her choice. She was diagnosed with throat cancer. In her final week her last wish was to have a meal with her family, since she loved cooking and sharing dinner with her loved ones. She couldn’t swallow the food because of the cancer and therefore had to spit it out after chewing it. Seeing this, her family also spat out their food after chewing. They made her look good by accepting her reality and doing it with her. Accepting other’s reality, whether it is their creativity, personality or hardship and doing something with it is how you show real acceptance and that is how you build trust in your relationships with others.

More on trust

People often tell me that they can’t trust others because the others aren’t trustworthy. What comes first, trust or trustworthiness? People will say others must earn their trust. Does that mean you treat them untrustworthy until they have earned your trust? People will react in the way that you treat them. If you treat someone as untrustworthy, they will act untrustworthy. But what if you trust someone and they disappoint you? That is where grace comes in, because you know you are also not perfect and also not always 100% trustworthy. Accept the mistake and do something with it. The more trusting you are going to be the more trustworthy the people in your team will become.

Team innovation through improvisation – Part 1

Click here for more information about our Team Innovation through Improvisation Workshops.


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Changes in business environments have resulted in a need for the development of innovative teams, because it is through teams that the management of change through innovation is achieved. One of the factors that play a crucial role in the innovation shown by teams is the climate for innovation within the team. This climate is the same as the climate prevalent in an improvisation theatre group who respond to ideas from their audience, fellow actors and the scenario quickly and creatively and in collaboration with one another. Research has shown that the exercises used by improvisation actors can be used to enhance the innovative climate in a work team. Neuroscience also supports improvisation as an experiential learning tool. Applied improvisation is an emerging field and business schools all over the world are starting to include it as part of their leadership and innovation courses.

The 7 crucial elements of an innovative team climate:

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There are 7 elements that play an important role in an innovative team climate. These elements are Communication, Risk, Control, Ideas, Relationship, Vision and Excellence. In each of these elements each team member has a responsibility towards him/herself and a responsibility towards his/her team members. All of these elements are interrelated and need to work together to create an innovative team climate.

Watch this space for a discussion of each of these elements.

Click here to read part 2 – Communication
Click here to read part 3 – Risk
Click here to read part 4 – ControlIntroduction