Improvisation

The “No Plan” Strategy

The Science of Improvisation

When you hold space for others you are holding space for yourself at the same time, because you are fully present in the moment and open to emerging possibilities. It’s not about planning every last detail because there is no “plan” as such in the here and now; there is only the state of being. For some, it can feel like a plunge into a kind of emotional darkness, but that is as far from the truth as it’s possible to be.

Planting our mind wholly in the moment is the first step towards understanding the awe of connectedness and calm acceptance. It’s a form of uncertainty we face and deal with more often than we realise, usually by masking it with structured coping mechanisms and heuristics which tend to smooth over the worry-filled gaps until someone or something switches the lights on again. Or better still, until we figure out that the uncertainty is normal and the fear, darkness, is a figment of our imagination. 

Uncertainty is not the problem here, however, its conflation with fear is. Sensing of a lack of meaningful data about what to expect in the immediate future is in fact an opportunity for creativity, mankind’s deepest skill. It is in this situation that we are most likely to experience the innate science of improvisation. If necessity is the mother of invention then improvisation is the lesser-known sibling and, like all good science, their common purpose is discovery beyond that which is already known.  Only, this science is dealing solely with what is happening in the present moment. There are no reference materials and methods here, it’s about letting go of expectations and self-imposed constraints to allow potential to unfold and grow.  

Holding space is about mutuality and support; recognising that we’re all connected and everyone can flourish through participation in and contribution to a clear vision of society. Indeed, the idea offers a new definition of society as the embracing of that which is collectively possible and desirable. Being aware of your own emotional states and those of others is key to engagement in this new normal, and this calls for improvisation and flexibility, not rules and guidelines. Today’s technology-fuelled pace of social change is too swift for yesterday’s structures. Connection, rapid adaptation and collaborative growth are the calling cards of a new socio-economic paradigm.

“Everything comes to us that belongs to us if we create the capacity to receive it.”

Rabindranath Tagore


To improvise is to welcome and embrace the unexpected as fuel for the continuing flow of the life-long learning process. It’s a mindset that sees the unplannable and unpredictable as an opportunity to build relationships with the people and events in the immediate environment. The community engages in a dynamic dialogue that seeks to create a spontaneous, sense-making framework for shaping and exploring the next set of emerging possibilities. Like a murmuration of starlings, every twist and turn or change of direction is a step towards greater unity. The only no-no in the process is retreating back into the frightened Ego, and even then the primary focus of the group remains to first hold space around the individual and together ride out the uncertainty.

The Empty Mind

The foundation of social improvisation is self-less humility and outward projection of a new set of values that seeks to first to empathise in order to understand. Until we can see the patterns of our own thoughts and behaviours the world will always be a reflection of what little we already know. Social improvisation meets this challenge head-on by offering everyone the opportunity to find their authentic self through expression. It’s the new intimacy; discovering the self in plain sight, open and vulnerable; much in the same way the dormant chrysalis is vulnerable, in order to eventually emerge as a butterfly.

This is creativity in the rawest and most courageous sense; shedding the redundant layers of social conditioning that we wear, often subconsciously, like armour against life’s perceived adversities. The purpose of social improvisation therefore is to navigate change by relinquishing the redundant in order to emerge, like the butterfly, better equipt for the next chapter of our journey. Gone are the fears of self-importance, the labels, the knowledge and, instead, flight beckons as we embrace curiosity and inquiry. The mind wakes up to a different kind of conversation – one where it’s totally OK to not know everything. This mind has developed the strength to tolerate and welcome the uncomfortable tensions that come with the uncertainty. It is the empty mind that holds space for possibilities. 

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