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What You Do Afterwards

--by Keith Sawyer (Mar 12, 2018)


Creativity is all about what you do afterwards.

I’m thinking about something that Miles Davis said about jazz improvisation: "It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note–it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong."

In improvisation, you don’t know what an action means until later. The group creates meaning, by responding and building on that action. This happens all the time in improv theater, and it’s what gives it such creative power. I call it retroactive interpretation. In improv, actors intentionally speak lines of dialogue that are ambiguous, utterances that can be interpreted in multiple ways. Actors do this on purpose–not because they’re lazy thinkers, or they’re just trying to fill up time. Improvising these ambiguous actions takes a lot of creativity. It’s not easy to say something that opens up possibilities for the scene, and doesn’t close down possible futures, but something that also provides enough specifics to drive a scene forward, to give other actors something to work with.  Actors know that the improvised dialogue that follows their action will soon provide a meaning to what they did.

I think this is so fascinating! Imagine: To act, without knowing what your action means. To act, trusting the group to interpret your action later. To act, while you relinquish control over what your own action means.

This isn’t what most of us do in everyday life. When you say something, you own it. You get to say what it means. If someone else interprets it differently, you jump in and correct them. To do improv, you need to completely change the way you approach conversation. You have to give away power and control, to the conversation itself. The conversation creates, not the individual speakers. The conversation takes on a life of its own. Meaning emerges from the collective, sequential, unfolding utterances of each speaker.

In group improvisation, no single person gets to decide what everything means. No single person even gets to decide what their own actions mean. The group creates, not the individual.

Excerpted from hereKeith Sawyer is the author of Group Genius.

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On Dec 5, 2018 Anna Sally wrote:

 



On Mar 13, 2018 jo wrote:

 Most of life is spent in improv!  We have little control over most things in life (unless we live in a bubble!). My thoughts , ideas, experience, world view, words, prayers, actions, music, silence ... bounce off of others thoughts, ideas, experience, world view, ect ... everyday!  Where two or three are gathered, there is improv.  Like with cooking,  mixing different ingredients together in variety of different of ways, a unique outcome is created every time!  Thanks be to God!



On Mar 13, 2018 Madhu Mehta wrote:

Very well articulated. One classical case of a long term "co" creation task (over many years) is building institutions. Initiators float an idea, and if it is meant to be, it would be shaped over many long years by many. Inspiring.


On Mar 12, 2018 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 I love this! The idea of collaboratively creating meaning. To me this means not being so attached to our own idea or outcome, but to the potential and possibility of what might unfold. We need this especially now given some of the deep divides. One potential path to a little healing is to open a conversation in a more ambiguous way to allow for more possibilities in the responses. A personal story of this was in my volunteer literacy project in Belize. Having no training in creating a volunteer project was a blessing because I had no set idea of what "should" work and therefore was constantly open to revising and adapting. It meant I was always openly listening to the locals and what they needed or wanted and then doing my best to collaborate with them and meet the needs. It turned out that creative writing in the schools was a need so I utilized the local indigenous legends learned while traveling village to village to create a first person narrative lesson plan. This also was  See full.

 I love this! The idea of collaboratively creating meaning. To me this means not being so attached to our own idea or outcome, but to the potential and possibility of what might unfold. We need this especially now given some of the deep divides. One potential path to a little healing is to open a conversation in a more ambiguous way to allow for more possibilities in the responses. A personal story of this was in my volunteer literacy project in Belize. Having no training in creating a volunteer project was a blessing because I had no set idea of what "should" work and therefore was constantly open to revising and adapting. It meant I was always openly listening to the locals and what they needed or wanted and then doing my best to collaborate with them and meet the needs. It turned out that creative writing in the schools was a need so I utilized the local indigenous legends learned while traveling village to village to create a first person narrative lesson plan. This also was ever changing depending on which region of the country I was training in <3 And then it further opened in other countries. Being open to the possibility of adaptation and revision allowed for so much more to unfold. And now in my current work at the World Bank, I am always adapting my training and listening to open conversation and meet needs. <3 I think putting myself in another's position helps me to open up to more possibility in my own actions. 

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On Mar 11, 2018 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

When it comes to decision making and  acting on it, I reflect  on the choice I am making and check whether it harms or hurts me or harms or hurts  others on a small scale or on  a large scale.I own my ownership for my action. In that way I am responsible and accountable for my decision and action. When it comes to group decision making and  acting on it,, I  participate in it with and open mind and with an open heart. This process is very helpful as we invite everybody to have their say in arriving at a decision and acting on it. In this case, the ownership and accountability belongs to the whole group. I use this approach in my class room when an issue has an impact on everybody or somebody in the class or beyond the class. I use Socratic dialogue  and dialectical approach for exploring ways and means for tackling the issue and arriving at a decision by consensus.I find this approach very fruitful, Namaste. Jagdish P Dave  See full.

When it comes to decision making and  acting on it, I reflect  on the choice I am making and check whether it harms or hurts me or harms or hurts  others on a small scale or on  a large scale.I own my ownership for my action. In that way I am responsible and accountable for my decision and action.

When it comes to group decision making and  acting on it,, I  participate in it with and open mind and with an open heart. This process is very helpful as we invite everybody to have their say in arriving at a decision and acting on it. In this case, the ownership and accountability belongs to the whole group. I use this approach in my class room when an issue has an impact on everybody or somebody in the class or beyond the class. I use Socratic dialogue  and dialectical approach for exploring ways and means for tackling the issue and arriving at a decision by consensus.I find this approach very fruitful,

Namaste.
Jagdish P Dave

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On Mar 11, 2018 david doane wrote:

 There are times when my action is my right action, simply an expression of what feels right to me in that moment.  In so doing, my action is meaningful to me because I'm being true to myself.  I never know what my action means to the other.  I don't let go of my ownership of my action -- I do let go of its meaning to the other, which is outside my control.  What helps me stay mindful of how I can open up possibility with my action is to keep as my mantra 'process, not outcome,' which promotes a kind of improvising because I have no script or agenda in mind.  When my action is my truth and independent of what it means to the other, I'm integrated, free and creative, and possibilities for growth open.



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