The value of not knowing the rules

I’m hearing the phrase “Lean In” a lot lately. You too? Ok good, it’s not just me.

Leaning in, in my world, essentially means “Yes, And”. Some call “Yes, And” an Improv rule. I call it a guideline, a mantra, a choice.

The choice is… to accept or to block. Leaning in means to accept what comes our way, to explore it, live in it, get messy with it… instead of push it away.

When faced with a new experience, task, or even a game we often want to know the rules. “Tell me what to do, and how to do it, help me feel certain”, say some of us. To hammer out the ambiguity is essentially what we are asking for.

Give me the boundaries, my role, task – let me feel comfortable by telling me the rules. The rules give me something to grab onto to keep me psychologically safe.

I see it in action all the time – in Graduate School class assignments, explaining a new Improv game, or big decisions.

When we are about to jump off the uncertainty cliff, we want to make sure our safety harness is attached.

Not knowing the rules produces a vulnerability unlike any other, especially when we don’t feel well-equipped for it. What if I don’t do this correctly? What if I fail?

The United States Army prepares its leaders for a life without certainty with a strategy called “Broadening”. Their development curriculum includes several stints of purposeful broadening – men and women are given assignments outside of their comfort zone to break the assembly line and predictability of the path. It’s more than a stretch assignment.

We won’t always know the rules. How comfortable are you when there might not be a right or wrong way to do something?

A broadening experience means truly leaning in – being able to sit with ambiguity and uncertainty. There may not always be rules in the places you need or want to go – but there is a purpose.

Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone prepares you for something else, allows you to make the rules, or teaches you that you may be comfortable with less rules than you thought.

Lean in.

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