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The Improvisor's Code and QConSF

While improvisation and software development seem divergent, Ted DesMaisons and Lisa Rowland describe several pieces of advice they've learned from improv that will help when working with others in any environment. Through a variety of improvisational tools, Ted DesMaisons and Lisa Rowland identified three "hacks" for building a better life.

First, embrace failure. Rowland and DesMaisons guided the audience through a paired activity, of increasing difficulty and silliness. The audience learned the "failure bow" - a way to cheer when a mistake was made. Rowland stated that "boldness is cultivated when you don't fear being wrong."  Being able to acknowledge failure, then get on with the task at hand makes it less scary to fail. It normalizes failure and "retrain[s] the flinch [to failure] to fruitfulness." DesMaisons described a scene the two did in a performance where technical problems arose. Through responding to the issue within the moment, the scene worked out quite well. DesMaisons encouraged the audience to look at mistakes as gifts, something potentially better than the situation you had before. Rowland encouraged the audience to own their mistake, "get over it," so that you can focus more on the group and new ideas, rather than focusing internally. 

Second, say "yes." Through a set of exercises where responses to ideas included "no," "yes, but," or "yes, and", the duo showed how saying yes can help people bring out more possibilities through collaboration. Simply saying no to another's ideas quickly shuts the other down. Saying "yes, but" followed with a counter proposal also reduces the flow of ideas. Saying "yes and" allows for a greater flow of ideas. Saying yes encourages an outpouring of ideas, and encourages open discussion, where all involved are more focused on finding the best ideas, rather than being the one to provide them. Rowland notes that you may not be able to say yes to any idea brought up in a business setting. There may however, be a part of the idea, or the expression of the idea, that you can support; "I like that you keep coming up with ideas" is a fine way to support an element of the suggestion.

The final hack is to share control. DesMaisons and Rowland led the audience in a game called "two-headed letter" where pairs alternate words in composing a letter. The audience learned that accepting what you have, and acknowledging that you share in the creation of a situation "create[d] something I couldn't have done by myself," said DesMaisons. Letting go of control of the situation reduces set expectations and allows others to contribute more to a solution. Rowland states that improv actors spend their energy getting to discover what is available in the present moment, rather than regretting what might have been.

DesMaisons closed by noting how these hacks build on each other. If you have a changed relationship to failure, it's easier to say yes. And if you know that your colleague will say yes, it's easier to share control.

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