Co create an event on Innovation and Playfulness (Vote for the Name)

On the 11th or January 2013 de Baak organizes the annual international Meet The World event, which has this year a focus on Innovation and how Playfulness can help organizations in this process. You could say that it is an offline version of this blog. At the moment we are looking for partners and other fun & interesting people to help us to co create this festival. You could be part of this process! Let’s prototype!

Please have a look at our draft webpage with a magazine which describes the outlines. 

And of course vote for the best name for this event. We put it on the right, so it connects well with your analytical left brain.

We’ve already started, so come out and play!

Do you actually need a Theater to play Improvisation?

In our latest blog The rise of Urban Playing we were discussing the possibility to take activities outside that normally would be inside. What would the impact be to the activity (and business model)  by just transforming the surroundings. At the end Jan Raes posted the question “Rutger, as for your cherised hobby, do you actually need a theater to play improvisation?”. The answer is of course ‘no’. 

The greatest thing about improvisation theater is that you play it with (in stead of only for) your audience. You can play wherever and whenever you want, just like a lot of people are great actors when they visit their family-in-law. But if we really look at improvisation as an activity that is normally performed in a theater, then a good example of playing outside the (theater) box is the famous Improv Everywhere from New York. There slogan is ‘we cause scenes’. My favorite example is their ‘Best Game Ever‘.


Cast or Audience?

What I really like about this video is that is the distinction between cast and audience has completely disappeared. The little baseball players, the cast of Improv Everywhere, the ‘normal’ audience, …, everybody is acting and enjoying themselves at the same time. The focus for all is to perform as good as they can, and to give their audience / target group the best time ever. They all depend on each other to make it the Best Game Ever. This would never have been possible in this way if they didn’t get rid of the idea that you have to play in a theater and asking people to pay for your performance.

The new question to the blog visitors: Do you have an example in which you have paid your customer / audience?

Organizational Jazz – Extraordinary Performance through Extraordinary Leadership

Last week I finished reading the really interesting book ‘Organizational Jazz – Extraordinary Performance through Extraordinary Leadership’ (David NapoliAlma WhiteleyKathrine Johansen) which I borrowed from Steve Leybourne from Boston University. It describes in a passioned way how most managers try to hang on to the myth of a certain and predictable world, but that we have to transform our way of working to create sustainable organizations. What do we do when our environment is close to chaos? We dance.

‘Constant, rapid and unpredictable changes, both internal and external, are challenging the time-honoured business models we are taught to follow – as we strive to manage our complex, evolving organizations.Drawing on the science of complex adaptive systems, this book offers a lens through which we search for new ways of thinking about, and working with, the unpredictability of our dynamic complex world.Organizations of today need ‘Extraordinary Leaders’ who can ‘dance’ with change by embracing the principles of complexity science to create highly adaptable and innovative organizations that recognise the value of intangible assets.The success of an organization usually depends on those working closest to the value-adding end of the business. It is those employees and their immediate leaders, who seem to have the greatest impact on the success of an organization. Managers-as-leaders can ease the way for those who depend on them for support and encouragement.’

Interesting issues mentioned are:

  • Mechanistic Leadership (certain environment) vs Extraordinary Leadership (uncertain environment).
  • Value Driven Organizations (opportunity and empowerment), in stead of depending on rules that limit people. Which is really strange if you think of it…
  • The movement from Ego to Eco (picture from earlier post) to cope with complexity. There is sometimes a narcissistic tendency in our Western culture to love great leaders, and to underestimate great teams.  So try to create Teams which act as a magnet, in stead of  a classroom with a teacher with students who wait for the lunch break.
  • Embracing complexity, in stead of trying to control it with strategic planning and control. People can cope with complexity as long as they dance with it and not try to make it what they expected it to be (older post on improvisation). Readers who have children will probably recognize this.
  • Being highly adaptive and innovative to become a sustainable organization.

I found it is really worthwhile to read this book, and can advise it to anybody whose interested in dealing with complexity, innovation, value driven organizations, and improvisation. You can read the first 128 pages (which were the most interesting…) on this google books site.

David Napoli, Alma M. Whiteley and Kathrine S. Johansen
ISBN 978-0-9757710-6-8

Link

MIT offers OpenCourseWare in which you can probably find your favorite subject, and look at the sheets and sometimes even videos of a course that was given some time ago. I found this page about Dynamic Leadership and Improvisation. It is not really something new, but I found it fun to watch how they teach improvisation skills and mindset at MIT. It combines some powerpoint slides with videos taken in the class.

Dynamic Leadership: Using Improvisation in Business (OpenCourseWare MIT)

“The first two week of this course are an overview of performing improvisation with introductory and advanced exercises in the techniques of improvisation. The final four weeks focus on applying these concepts in business situations to practice and mastering these improvisation tools in leadership learning.”

Zohar Adner: Stop stressing out, start having fun!

“What is your advice for me when I’m in stress, and my head is full of thoughts?”
“What do you normally after you had such a stressful moment?”
“I normally take a beer and relax with some friends…”
“Well, skip the stress part, and just take a beer with your friends.”

That the solution for a problem can be simple becomes clear in the interesting and fun conversation  with Improvisation and Stress expert Zohar Adner in a coffee shop ‘The Bean’ in New York. It becomes painfully clear that deepening  what got you stuck, isn’t the logical way of starting to move again.


“Life is more fun when you stop stressing out”
Again a very simple sentence, so what’s the catch? If you say this sententence to somebody, this person might well say “He, my life isn’t that easy. You have no idea what I have to deal with. My manager… and the organization is… so I can’t… ”. This all can be very true, but do you have the inner drive to make a change? People who say “I don’t have a clue where to start, but let’s go!” can be regarded as naive but are open for new possibilities. Zohar’s advice: don’t put your energy in the first group. If a person doesn’t want to change, it will not happen before they really want to.  Painfully true I guess in the situations I worry about too much…  And the people in the second group can be positively influenced when they see the first group changing and want to be a part of that.

If innovation is about change, and therefor about taking risks: do you focus on the fun part or do you get stuck in all the potential problems? Can you see complexity, but keep it simple so you can play?  Iggy Gesell |(some blogs ago) connected me to a Risk Expert. I’m curious what his opition is about this all….

The Game about Stress
So it wasn’t a big suprise that Zohar already had invented a game about Stress a while ago. The concepts in this video are nevertheless made up no the spot. Put all your miseries in the hole of dispair, and you will end up with a mountain of good fortune. Let’s play!

National Institute for Play: Play state in Complexity

The National Institute for Play investigates Play. They have chosen a good name I would say. Why do people and animals play? And what would also the benefit be for professionals in organizations to play in certain situations? I think their approach is interesting to facilitate more scientific research on the topic, so we can support managers who have (most of the time) a focus on efficiency. 

“Demand for workers who understand complexity is increasing. Over 75% of the U.S. work force does information work which requires workers to collaborate with other information workers to make judgments and solve complex issues.

The practices that organizations need to be developing for their increasingly complex information work are those which infuse the state of play into their workers’ attitudes. They need to learn how to do the work of their organizations in a play state.

Our experiences indicate that executives require sufficient immersion in the science of play before they understand and value it. The intellectual and scientific basis of play can provide the understanding – and permission – to deploy new play-based practices in their organizations. But, they must also value the new practices; without a positive play ethic, the climate for innovation is spoken of as important, but is not acted upon.” (The National Institute for Play)

Founder Stuart Brown on Ted.com:

He doesn’t say it very playful, but most trainers train in subjects they have had some trouble with, because else they wouldn’t understand why it is so important:)

Interview with Tim Douglas (Emerson College): What does innovation look like?

Today I had an interesting conversation with Tim Douglas. He was part of the original cast of ImprovAsylum in Boston and works now as an assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission at Emerson College. He is a person who has really interesting thoughts about Improvisation and the game of Innovation on a practical and abstract level. I asked him to draw a picture of Innovation and explain this afterwards. Could it help us to find ‘the truth’?

I think there is an interesting tension in the part of sharing ideas, as I spoke a lawyer a couple of weeks ago who said “The biggest misunderstanding in Innovation is to share your idea with others. Never do so, because they will steal your idea!!”. I know of course what he means regarding to patents, but all non-lawyers talk about a more social kind of Innovation. I’m gonna try to find a lawyer to draw their picture of Innovation. I’ll bet it has thick walls and small peepholes to watch the competition:) As reality is only perception – I hope we can combine those visions into one simple game in which people can be creative.

The link between Innovation and Improvisation

An increasing number of professionals is trained in improvisation skill and mindset. It helps them to play with their environment instead of controlling it. Improvisation could therefore be an interesting part in dealing with the process of the Innovation Game. Innovation is just like improvisation: “The act of introducing something new” (the American heritage dictionary).

Applied Improvisation
Improvisation has a background in Jazz and theatre. Jazz musicians play a certain piece (for instance Take Five), and improvise along the way. Improvisation actors take it to the next level by asking their audience for input. They use this to create completely new stories, songs and games. The optimal co creation with the customer. You could say that they are innovators on stage. Applied Improvisation or Business Improvisation refers to the translation of these capabilities to the professional business workspace.

The rules of improvisation
So how do they do it? For the reader that never has seen improvisation theatre: please have a look at this short scene from the American improvisation group ‘Who’s line is it anyway’.

You could say that they are dealing with a difficult and unexpected environment: two old ladies which do everything wrong. They are capable of creating a wonderful scene for their audience anyway by following the basic rules of improvisation:

  1. Accept the situation as it is. You could wish that your environment would be different (and probably better), but the simple fact is that it is as it is. So just accept it, and see the possibilities.
  2. Add something to it. Act. Add what is needed to the current situation. So if there is nothing, just start by doing something and add to it what is logical. Follow your intuition, because most people get stuck in thinking. To make a link to innovation: “creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things” (Theodor Levit).
  3. Make the other shine. Enjoy what your partner, customer, or fellow actor is doing and help them to make it even better. So don´t focus too much on yourself or what the other could have been better in your opinion
  4. Stay in the here and now. Everything that you need is here and now. This is also called bricolage. Be prepared for what is coming, and stay focused on what is happing. “The past is history, the future is a mystery and Today is a gift. That is why we call it the present”.

Mindset
When I meet improvisers from all over the world (Applied Improvisation Network), it strikes me that they are very open for new things. Most of them act as entrepreneurs because they like to create new things and are able to cope with uncertainty. They learned this by playing jazz or improvisational theatre. I think therefore that making the connection between arts, science and business is interesting for innovator. I guess is that most of them already do this in their own way.

Izzy Gesell: Finding business cases on Improvisation in Organizations

This afternoon I had the pleasure to meet Izzy Gesell. An Organizational Alchemist with a great experise in Improvisation. He makes things simple and accessible, like you can see in the video below. We spoke about the (apparent) tension between planning and improvisation, innovation and comfort, and knowing and doing. He notices that more and more organization are familiar with the principles of improvisation and play, endorse these principles, but find it difficult to implement them in their everyday work. Like with all innovative processes, it takes leadership to change behavior even when you know that the outcome is an improvement. There is however a exciting flow in the leadership development landscape with concepts like gamification, improvisation, theory U, etc. that contribute to the acceptance of play in professional environments.

Help needed
We’re now looking to find new business cases that can be used as best practices to take this flow to the next level. You can help with this by writing about these, or bringing me in contact with organizations who had success or failure in creating playful environments.