What’s the drill: May 3 – Back to the basics

Ah, just when you think you’ve become an Improvisation Jedi  a challenge emerges to test your will, your word, and the ability to make the conscious unconscious.

Enter, the group project.

Time and time again I’m reminded just how important the skills of an Improviser are, how much practice it takes to apply these behaviors on and off-stage and the reward for doing so.

Sometimes, we need a re-set or a re-boot to wake us up and remind us that these behaviors sometimes hide off-stage when things like stress, the need for control, deadlines, and “being right” want the spotlight for the quick ego boost they may provide.

Ah, silly person. No. These aren’t the rewards that count. It’s the reward that comes from being a team player that we desire most.

Be the kind of Improviser/group project member people want on their team… because you make them better.

So, how do we do that?

1. Notice More it is my obligation to notice, accept, and use every offer/idea that comes my way. We only notice the offers if we are listening and paying attention

2. Start with agreement — Because I believe everything my partner says is fascinating and even, genius — it is my obligation to notice their offer and start with a place of “yes”. To do this well, I need to withhold judgement and blocking in favor of more acceptance.

3. Build instead of tear down – “yes, and” the heck out of their idea.  Two heads are better than one. By building on their initial idea instead of simply sticking to my own I help make my partner look good…great, even!

What truly happens when we enact these guidelines and put them into practice every day is that we allow ourselves and our team-mates to be changed. It’s what happens when we notice, accept, and build more often. We’re in our own head less, and experiencing more.

And if we fail at this today, there is always tomorrow.

What the Super Bowl blackout can teach us about navigating ambiguity



Check the books, but I’d wager that no one bet on a blackout during the Super Bowl.

What happens in a moment of complete ambiguity, where a scheduled and somewhat scripted control room has to go off-script?

This clip from CBS News takes us behind the scenes of the moment, and also reveals an important lesson in how to improvise.

Improvisers are skilled at succinct communication, especially in the beginning of a scene where everything is unknown including our characters, their relationship, and the environment. We establish the platform of the scene so that our fellow players feel safe and knowledgeable about the basic parameters. We practice being obvious and clear to help make our partner look good. We work to speak a common language as quickly as possible.

Watch about 60 seconds into the clip as two crew members work to clarify what’s happening in “their scene”. The crew member’s partner twice asks, “what does that mean?” before his partner says the obvious…. we have a game delay.

In a moment of ambiguity, when emotions and adrenaline are high, those who are skilled at navigating ambiguity help make their partner look good by communicating in a way that helps get us out of the dark.

What’s the drill – July 20: Fifteen seconds to better listening

15 seconds to better listening – can it be true?

Today I want to share some great active listening tips from Applied Improvisation pioneer, the training firm “Performance of a Lifetime”.

As Improvisers our focus in a scene is on the other person. The tools in our toolbox teach us how to make our partner, colleague, audience member, etc look good.

In helping others to add to their communications toolbox, that same focus on the other person remains very strong.

Here are some listening tips to help you focus on making your partner look good:

1. Listening is not a transaction — it’s our job to listen actively with the intent to build on and co-create a conversation. We can only “yes, and” what our partner says if we are completely focused on what they are saying, without pre-planning our next sentence.

2. Let your partner know they’ve been heard – use re-incorporation, use their words, and the phrase, “what I heard you say is”, to increase empathy, connection and trust between you and your conversation partner. Work with what you heard, not what you wanted to hear. Doesn’t it feel great to know you’ve really been listened to?

3. Give them the space – in this case, we’re talking about 15 seconds. Wait 15 seconds to respond after your partner speaks. Practice this enough and it will become a habit. What did you notice? Can you try this in an especially heated, or crucial conversation?

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor E. Frankl

Read the whole article here:




How to find strength in vulnerability

There are moments when I’d like to write more personal blog posts – and I hold back.

A writer by education and briefly by trade, there were years when expressing myself on paper came naturally and enjoyably.

However, since I discovered Improvisation, I’ve felt more comfortable and expressive through verbal communication – through collaboration, connection and deep conversation.

Improvisation forced me out of my head.

Now, as part of this experiment in pursuing my passion I’m back “in my head” a lot more than I’d like. And, sometimes I fear that I’m putting too much of myself out there on this site.  There are days I worry that if I write too much about my passion, my purpose, or my journey I will be too vulnerable.  My head says, “stick to the facts, the ROI, the business side, Lindsey”. If I don’t, how will this be perceived – and will it lead where I hope it will?

Mostly I wonder if my vulnerability will be viewed as a weakness, or a strength.

Truthfully, I feel as vulnerable as ever.

But, leave it to famed vulnerability researcher Brene Brown to put it in perspective:

In her latest TED talk, she argues:

1. Vulnerability is not weakness.

2. Vulnerability is our most active measurement of courage. It is facing emotional risk, and uncertainty head-on.

3. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.

 4. Adaptability to change is all about vulnerability.

I truly believe all of this – but the choice we have to make is to face vulnerability head on, as opposed to hiding from it. The choice becomes more difficult when it comes from a place of fear – for one, fearful of not knowing what the future holds.

Dr. Brown is an example of a courageous woman who truly leaned into her vulnerability. She put herself out there and preached what she believed in. And, look at her reach and results. It’s astounding.

The past few months have collectively been the most important of my life.  It has been an experiment on many levels – partially to see how far I could push myself into vulnerability.

My friends and family know I have been pushed to my limits – to the point where (as Dr. Brown describes) vulnerability almost became my shame.

In the quiet – when I am back in my head, I can choose shame and fear, or I can choose to continue to find strength in my vulnerability.

The lesson here (I believe there is a lesson in everything we do) is to learn to truly apply the lessons of Improv to the times when life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Can I “yes, and” life and the “offers” around me when it’s much easier to do the opposite – at a point where I am most vulnerable, most open to criticism and rejection.

There is a reason for this test – and if I fully embrace it and own it, it will allow me to be a stronger trainer, facilitator, and person.  I believe it already has.

I can choose to lean into the vulnerability and rely on the tools I have been taught to navigate the unknown.  I choose to embrace authenticity, honestly, openness – and to see my vulnerability as one of my greatest strengths.  We all have this choice.



What’s the drill – March 13: A team building quick-win

Even the strongest teams need an occasional energy jolt.

Here’s a quick tip for instant team-building, inspired by an Improv workshop.

Count how many scenarios you can apply this to.

12 Improvisers from different backgrounds, with different styles and different perspectives on the art form recently came together to form a new troupe. We’ve had minimal rehearsal time, and are attempting a brand new format. Talk about a team-building challenge.

At the end of our final rehearsal, the week before our first show – it seemed we needed a quick and positive way to develop connection, empathy and a bit more trust.

I asked, can we all answer this one question….?

“What inspires and delights you on-stage? What makes you happiest?”

We each took turns answering this question, and in the process developed insights into our team members that allowed us to connect on a more personal level.

Understanding what makes us tick and feel inspired at work is imperative to bringing out the best in each other.

Try this, or something similar for a quick jolt. Even being asked this question by a colleague does wonders to open the lines of communication.



Two words that kill innovation and creativity

Every moment and in every interaction we are capable of choosing our “performances” and how we act, behave, and respond in a given situation.

Often our responses are habitual, instinctive, and we aren’t even aware of the mindset that’s ingrained in us or our companies. 

It’s possible these two little words are killing the innovation and creativity of your team:

“Yes, But”. 

Reflect on how you and your company respond to new or untested ideas. Do you “but” ideas to death? It might look like this:

“Yes, but it won’t work”

“Yes, but we don’t have the time”

“Yes, but we tried something similar before and it didn’t work”

In doing so, are you rejecting innovation and creativity?

I’m not advocating a company full of just “yes” men. Instead, we can choose a performance that involves less judgement, more open-mindedness, acceptance of others ideas, and a willingness to build on ideas instead of rejecting them.

Think about all of the performance choices you have every day. How can your performance increase and not block the flow of ideas, open communication and an open mind.

“But….” , just give it a try!

What’s the drill – March 2nd: Communication is a two-way street

How many times have you heard organizational leaders utter the phrase, “we have to communicate more” – in response to employees not understanding or getting on board with company initiatives or projects?

What’s the drill for today reminds us that communication is a two-way street.  Often, employees are more concerned with whether or not management is listening to what they have to say.

To achieve stronger communication, remember that maintaining and creating a back-and-forth dialogue is important.

Can you turn your company updates into town hall meetings? Can you create more time for back-and-forth discussion (beyond an annual survey?).

Get on the road to better communication. But remember to look and listen both ways.

What’s the drill – February 24: One game, many applications

“A game is just an excuse for a debrief”, says Thiagi – game and performance training guru.

Here’s a great game to play which will lead to fascinating debriefs regarding leadership development, communication skills training,  and team-building.

“Ball”  is the name of the game, and it’s one any group can play. I first learned “ball” in my Foundation 1 improv class at BATS Improv in San Francisco. Since then, I’ve played ball to begin almost every single improv class I’ve taken.  Beyond it being a ton of fun, it’s also a great physical warm-up and a way to foster a group mind.

To play, all you need is a plastic or koosh-like large ball.

1. Grab your group and stand in a circle so that everyone can see each other.

2. One person starts with the ball and hits it in the air.

3. Each time the ball is hit/touched by a member of the group, the players count together in unison (1, 2, 3, and so on). The goal of the game is to keep the ball in the air without it touching the ground. Everyone must count together out loud, and a player may not hit the ball twice in a row (like the rules of volleyball).

4. If the ball falls, or if a player touches the ball twice in a row, the game resets and counting starts over again at 1.

5. The goal is to work together as a team and see how high of a number your team can get to.

Try this game with your team and see how you do. What strategies did you use? Most importantly, what can this game teach us about leadership, communication skills, commitment, and team-work? Check in Monday for some results.