The one where I scare myself on purpose

So you all remember the Baz Luhrmann song “Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen”? The one that starts “Ladies & Gentlemen of the class of ’97, wear sunscreen”. Good.

Awesome, isn’t it?

The words are taken from a column published in the Chicago Tribune in 1997 by Mary Schmich and there is a line that is very relevant to what follows…

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Now aside from looking in the mirror first thing in the morning my day to day life is not what you would call scary. I am not a soldier on patrol, a surgeon performing ground breaking operations, a homeless person scared of not having the means to eat or a fireman running into a burning building… I work in L&D. On the scary scale my life gets to challenging regularly but not often scary.

So with this in mind on Saturday I attended an Improvisation Workshop. 12 random people in a venue in South East London all having volunteered to spend the best part of a day jumping off a cliff…or so it felt.

My reasons for being there were various and included:

  1. Checking it out as an approach to use in the organisation
  2. Improve my personal ability to “think on my feet” and advocate this for my team
  3. I am not very good at turning down a dare
  4. Do one thing every day that scares you

Without going through everything we did I have to say it was a blast.

Firstly, it was a really great bunch of very supportive people who, without individual ego, wanted everyone else to get as much from it as possible. Secondly, apart from being supportive they were a really interesting bunch which made lunch full of interesting conversation. Thirdly and for me most importantly, I faced my fear and really really really enjoyed it.

The control freak in me had a bad day. When you don’t know what’s coming next and there are very few rules of engagement, thinking through the situation and tailoring what you express in all forms of communication, verbal and non-verbal, is very difficult. The result of this was the voice in my head wasn’t a happy camper and spent most of the day yelling – but I wasn’t listening…for once.

The guy who ran the whole thing is called John Cremer (and I’ve stuck his details below) and I was fortunate enough to meet him when we were fellow participants on a training course recently. John is by trade an improviser. He uses the tools and skills of improvisation in both business and non-business settings. In a business context he does conferences, public speaking, team events but primarily uses his abilities to help people understand how they can be more creative. He’s also a pain as he sent me an e-mail with the details of the workshop with only a few words and a link. The few words were, “I dare you”…

His rules for improvising are short and simple (and he doesn’t give a handout!!) and they are:

  1. Listen
  2. Say yes
  3. Commit

The first one is simple. I am really not going to talk about active listening, focussing on others etc etc etc here – promise.

The say yes thing probably needs a little further explanation. This isn’t a Danny Wallace “Yes Man” type of say yes. This is more an “accept what you are given” and rather than saying “yes, but…” to it (which reduces options and feels negative to the other person) say “yes, and…” to it and open up more options through the collaboration between the individuals.

The final point – commit, in simple terms is ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’ and the best bit is its improvisation so you can’t get it wrong. When this was discussed on Saturday it made me think of this blog by Neil Morrison which highlights how often people stay within their functional boxes and don’t get in there, instead sitting on the sidelines watching the business go by…

Despite spending the first hour with blood pressure  that would have made a physician blush the day was great and I am considering having a go at further workshops but not just  yet…

The main thing I’ve come away with is a distinct impression that the rules for improvisation that John professes could be very interesting when applied more broadly but given the constraints and politics of organisations how many people would really apply them?

As for something scary for today….well that’s easy. I am going to try and make my departmental budget balance!

P.S. Picture the scene, man sat on chair, woman stands at his shoulder. There are 11 people watching… One of those watching says “and your first line is ‘don’t leave me’” GO!

John Cremer

Work stuff:               


Non-work stuff:     


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2 responses to “The one where I scare myself on purpose

  1. Neil

    I think it might be ……unless you are interested in Michigan real estate…..

    (at least it shows I read and click on the links in your blog!)

  2. Fab fab fab, Rob. I try and do something big, new and scary at least once a week at work (every day and I wouldn’t get anything done) but the thought of improvising makes me feel like a lie down and a gin and tonic….must try it…:)

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