“Augghh, Mom! Stop it! You always do that,” snarls my daughter. She’s just shared some small quip a friend made at school, or maybe it was a little failure or frustration.
“What?’ I responded - not exactly taken aback, she is a 12-year-old after all, but not quite sure what I’d done this time.
“You always do that! You always turn everything into some kind of learning experience. Sheesh.”
I’m sure I’m not alone. I’m a parent who’s grown up in the age of “teachable moments.” I’m also sure, she’s right - that I’m especially obnoxious about it. It’s an occupational hazard. You see, our work is built on the premise - one we learned from our great mentor, Thiagi, the guru of interactional strategies for learning,(www.thiagi.com) - that experiential activities are incredibly valuable learning tools. And, what, after all, is life, but a series of experiential activities?
Last month, my twelve-year-old daughter participated in a workshop with a casting director in New York City. The kid was asked to prepare a song and a monologue, and she brought “The Lamest Place in the World” from “13: The Musical” and a Snoopy monologue from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”
After she sang her song, about a young teenage girl welcoming the cute new boy to her boring, awful town (“which just got a little bit better”), the casting director said,
The other day I was expressing regret to a friend. After listening patiently and compassionately for as long as she could stand it, she finally said, "Look, the Past is Prologue. What are you going to do now?"
In improv we say "everything is an offer". What that means simply is that anything - a word, a gesture, a memory, a facial expression - is something that can be used and built with. Improvisers talk about "yes, and-ing" offers. The "yes" means, see, hear, accept what is going on. Even if it is unexpected or unattractive. The "and" means add something. Offer something back. Build.
Improvisers make up stuff - scenes, songs, stories, sometime full-length plays. On-the-spot, collaboratively, with virtually no pre-planning, building only with what is happening in the moment. In order to engage in this ridiculous endeavor, we have developed principles, philosophies and techniques that are useful in any situation in which human being collaborate, build relationships, communicate, create or solve problems.
I was recently reminded of one of my father's favorite stories. He told it whenever an explanation seemed to be too pat, a new report too simplistic, a conversation to narrow. The more I think about storytelling itself, the more is seems important to keep the following in mind....
Just about ten years ago I was co-facilitating a training session for a large high-tech company in Paris. While the participants were engaged in an assignment, three or four of my co-facilitators and I found ourselves at the back of the room discussing storytelling. I shared the “Story Spine”, a structure borrowed from improvisational theatre that helps people create well-made stories. Others shared their own tips and techniques. Within 15 minutes, we had a revelation. Storytelling was a wonderful tool for communication and learning!