“Safety does not come first: Goodness, truth and beauty come first.”
– Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
I’ve used this quote for years to express my approach to life. Yet, spending time at the Applied Improvisation Network World Conference 2013, I find myself reflecting on my need for safety. I’m not alone with this: when I’m telling others that I’m playing improv, they often say “I would never dare to”.
If we’re serious about applying more improvisation skills in today’s world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity – how can we make it safe for people to engage with them?
“There are people who prefer to say ‘Yes,’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘No’. Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.”
– Keith Johnstone, Impro
Is there really such a dichotomy between adventure and safety? I think it would be dangerous. It would stigmatize those that care for safety as those that stand in the way of progress. And I feel it here at the AIN conference: choosing not to engage with spaces and activities that don’t feel safe for me earns me concerned looks from risk-loving extroverts.
Now here’s a radical thought: What if we can only effectively and sustainably engage in adventure, progress and a VUCA world if we take good care of ourselves, our mates and our safety?
No mountain climber would start an expedition without plenty of preparation, suitable equipment and companions (s)he trusts. In fact, it’s foolish and potentially life-threatening not to.
Defining “Applied Improvisation”, AIN President Paul Z Jackson mentions three characteristics:
- Beyond the theatre
- Don’t let the fun obscure the learning
So how can we help people feel safe enough to try something new (like improv or changing the world)? As a facilitator, I like to think about: building connections and trust between people, being clear about the ‘container’ (purpose, schedule, process…) and gradually letting go and giving space for engagement and emergence. There are certainly many ways to do this, and I invite you to pitch in with your ideas.
Without safety and boundaries, we won’t get to ‘YES and’.
Without ‘YES and’, will we find goodness, truth and beauty?