Posts filed under ‘Leadership’

So long, farewell, amen

Posted by Peter Bromberg

This week I came to the end of two wonderful chapters in my life.

First, this was my final week of employment at the South Jersey Regional Library Cooperative (SJRLC), where I have enjoyed working for the past nine years.  And second, this is my final post at the Library Garden blog, where I have had the pleasure of writing for the past four years.  Both departures are bittersweet, filled with sadness and loss, but also mixed with excitement for the what lies ahead.  On Monday, August 2nd I will begin as Assistant Director at the Princeton Public Library, and at the same time I will launch a new blog at http://blog.peterbromberg.com.

I would like use this opportunity, my final post at LG, to do something that I have never done before.  I am going to break my cardinal Library Garden blogging rule and write a post that is intended primarily for the New Jersey library community.  If you are not a member of the NJ library community I encourage and invite you to read on, as the topic I’m about to address has broader implications for librarianship.  But again, I am writing directly to you my NJ colleagues.

CONGRATULATIONS, I’M SORRY
Those of you in NJ know that we have just emerged from a partially successful four-month advocacy campaign to restore state funding for library services.  In March we received devastating news that the Governor had slashed library funding 74% in his proposed budget, effectively putting an end to vital library services including delivery, interlibrary loan, shared full-text databases, and the New Jersey Library Network including the four Regional Library Cooperatives.  In late June, after an advocacy campaign that generated tens of thousands of letters of support, we learned that much of the funding was restored, and many services would be saved.  Unfortunately, as in other states (including Colorado,  Massachusetts and Illinois), the Cooperative system — a system in place for nearly 25 years — is being downsized, as the State Librarian has made a decision to consolidate the four Cooperatives into one.

I have been approached by a number of people who have asked me to either write or co-write an article on the phenomena of merging and downsizing regional library cooperatives.  We’ve seen a similar pattern with many former OCLC affiliates like Palinet and Solinet merging into Lyrasis.  What is the impact of merging library cooperatives — of effectively de-regionalizing?  Are regional library cooperatives even necessary in this day and age?

I’ve been pondering the requests to write about these questions over the past few weeks as I clean out my office, thinking about the different angles and struggling to clarify for myself the core questions to be explored.  Part of my struggle is this: I place great personal value on transparency, dialogue, and fact-based decision making, and have been feeling a great deal of disappointment in not seeing those values honored or expressed to the extent I would have liked as the decision to consolidate the Cooperatives was made.  It distressed me that a very important decision with far-reaching ramifications was made so quickly and with what I regarded as little input from the library community. (The State Librarian put together an Advisory Committee to advise on budget/spending priorities but the Committee was not asked to give input on the consolidation of the Regions– a decision that had been made before the Committee convened on July 6th.)  I resisted writing anything because I was aware that my own disappointment in the process, and my very personal and emotional connection to the results of the process, were making it difficult for me to think clearly or objectively about the issues.

BRIDGING THE PAST AND THE FUTURE
For weeks I have struggled to get clarity on my mix of emotions, experience them, and release them, in an attempt to get to a place where I could reasonably address the broader topic of the value of libraries cooperatives in 2010 in a relatively dispassionate manner.

And then, a bit of providence.

As I cleaned my office, finding all manner of interesting artifacts, I came across this document, a record of a focus group convened for the State Librarian in 1992 to explore the challenges then facing the New Jersey Library Network, then only six years old.  The questions got directly to the heart of the matter:  Are Regional Library Cooperatives of value, and if so, how and to what degree?  Seeing these questions and answers helped me get to the heart of my questions and my concerns.

What, in 2010, is the value of having a Cooperative system?  With the consolidation of our Regional Cooperatives, something is gained and something is lost. Looking forward, it is important that the New Jersey library community have an open and informed dialogue that addresses our reduced resources, and determines which spending priorities will most benefit the libraries, and hence the library customers.  With regard to the consolidation of the Regions, I think it would be fruitful to ask:

  1. What has been gained by consolidation, and how do we maximize those gains?
  2. What has been lost due to consolidation, and how do we mitigate those losses?

As I write this I am at a point in my life of great change.  At this moment I stand at a personal and professional juncture between my past experiences, accomplishments, and failures, and my future challenges, struggles, and (hopefully) victories and successes. Perhaps it is because I am straddling this brief period of time, bridging what was and what is about to be, that I have a desire to build another bridge.

VALUE OF COOPERATIVE SERVICES:  TAKE THE SURVEY! (open until Sept 15!)
The focus group document from 1992 provides a useful historical context for exploring the questions we are struggling with in 2010.  In the interest of furthering the dialogue — the open dialogue I firmly believe we must have to make wise and fiscally sound decisions that will strengthen our libraries and our library community — I have created a survey modeled after the 1992 focus group. It is a bridge between then and now, between where we were and where we need to be.  I invite all members of the NJ library community to participate in whole or in part.  The direct survey link is: http://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=dG4zYmx1SEM1VGV4ZFFGdVBodHp4U1E6MQ.  Note: Extended until Sept 15!  the survey closes on August 9th.

There are 12 questions, and all are essay/short answer.  You may be as brief or as detailed as the spirit moves.  Answer one question, or answer all of them.  I appreciate any and all feedback that you can provide.  It is only by generating this information that we can begin to have an informed and productive discussion regarding the future of Cooperative service for NJ libraries, and the best use of our increasingly limited state resources.  I will use the survey information to inform my future writings, and will also share the results with the State Advisory Committee, the State Library, Infolink, and the New Jersey library community.

It is of course difficult to discuss resource allocation without knowing what the resources are, so for your convenience I am providing links to the FY2010 and FY2011 budget allocations from the state:


SO LONG, FAREWELL, AMEN

I’d like to conclude this post by thanking my co-writers at Library Garden, especially Janie Hermann and Robert Lackie who were instrumental in founding and building this blog along with me.  It has been an honor to write with all of you.  I value the relationships that we have formed and know that we will continue to enjoy many adventures together.

I would also like to thank my co-workers at SJRLC:  Sandi Augello, Beth Cackowski, Anne Marie Hering, and most especially Karen Hyman who has offered so much support and wisdom and from whom I have learned so very much.  You are all my family, and it has been an honor and a pleasure to work so closely with you.

Finally, I’d like to thank the readers of Library Garden for any eyeball time you’ve given my posts over the past four years.  If you’ve enjoyed or been otherwise engaged by what you’ve read, please join me as I continue the conversation at blog.peterbromberg.com. And I will join you as I transition from Library Garden writer to faithful Library Garden reader.

Links to documents referenced

July 31, 2010 at 8:57 am 5 comments

Save NJ Libraries: reverse the cuts

Save NJ Libraries

Save NJ Libraries

My reasoning behind this design was to underline how important libraries are in New Jersey for people who otherwise don’t get the opportunity to sit and listen to, or better yet interact with, a brilliant speaker, enjoy an amazing array of books, magazines, newspapers, and journals, do scholarly research in a vast set of rich databases, enjoy entertaining, informative, and beautiful audio/visual media, and maybe even just get a chance to hop on the internet. For the rest of us though, it means a cornerstone of society, community and culture being quickly and deliberately dissolved.

Please tell everyone that you know to tell everyone that they know that the cuts to libraries are a devastating blow to social progress and societal stability in New Jersey.

March 19, 2010 at 12:51 am 3 comments

Thoughts on Authenticity


Back in March, at PLA, I remember Karen Hyman talking about authenticity in the lastest issue of Time magazine. It intrigued me enough to cause me to look into the issue of Time and then also interlibrary loan the book, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want by James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II.
While the book is definitely geared towards business I think there are lots of ideas that we in the library field can take and use to our advantage with our customers. Gilmore and Pine talk about why we buy what we buy and that currently, people purchase based on how well the items reflect what the person wants to say or project about themselves. Consumers will consider experience and products more real if they have a hand in creating it themselves. What it boils down to is creating an experience that is true to what you say you are.
Steven Bell echoed these sentiments at the FutureTech for Libraries Symposium in June. He explained that we are in an experience economy and that we need to be aware of the expectations that exist regarding services and technology.
So what does this all mean for libraries?  Well, let’s think about a few key questions:

  1. What expectations do users have about your services? Are they positive or negative? Do you meet those expectations, even the negative ones?
  2. Are your customers able to personalize their services? Do you offer pointed email advisories? Can they customize their experience on your library’s website?

Gilmore and Pine say “Be what you say you are by finding your very own original way for customers to experience your offering in the places you establish” (p.152). It isn’t an easy proposition. It may take lots of work to make the vision and missions of our institutions to match and exceed positive expectations that people have about libraries of all types.
Important to remember is that “What you’ve done is what you are, and what you do is who you become” (p.218).
Sounds like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Maybe that is exactly what we need to do.

July 6, 2008 at 6:32 pm 1 comment

Juicy Visions: Reconnecting with purpose

Reconnecting with purpose.
What juicy vision gave birth to your Library?
by Peter Bromberg

Want an easy yet powerful way to re-energize and re-focus your passion at work? Clear five minutes from your schedule (yeah, you’re busy, but you can do it.) Pick up a pencil or a keyboard or a crayon and answer this question: What juicy vision gave birth to your library?

Think about it: Libraries don’t just appear. Your library didn’t just pop fully-formed into existence one day, did it? I’ve never started a library, but I’m sure it’s not a quick or easy process. A short list of needed elements might include: Funding, employees, land, building, furniture, collections, utilities, finances, training, computers. The creation of your library may have also required an expression of the will of the people, perhaps in the form of a public vote or approval from a Board or Commission.

So how did your library get here? There must have been many people involved and they must have really wanted to create it. A lot of time and energy went into it. These people, these ‘founders’ could have been playing golf, or spending time with their children, or watching a movie. Why did they choose to invest some of their limited time on this planet into creating your library? There had to have been one heck of a compelling vision.

THE JUICY VISION
Before brick one was laid, or book one was laminated, your library begin its existence as a vision in someone’s mind. It must have been an exciting, juicy vision, so filled with energy that people felt compelled to share it, and talk about it, and invest their energy and time into making it a reality. That vision must have turned people on.

“Yeah, a library… I see it! Information. Books on anything and everything. A great collection of materials. It will be a living reflection of our community’s values. It will help ensure a healthy democracy. It will be a place where people can educate themselves—level the playing field. A place for focused study. A place for serendipitous discovery. A place to bring the kids. A place to relax. A place to be stimulated by new ideas. Yeah, I see it!!”

People got so jazzed by this vision that they wrote about it and talked about it, and got other people jazzed to a point where a community of people said, yeah, let’s do it! We want it! Let’s spend money. Let’s give our time. Let’s develop some land. Let’s build buildings! Lets create something that will reflect this juicy vision. Let’s bring it to life!

WHAT GOT ‘EM SO JAZZED?

My question is, what was this vision that got everyone so turned on that they got into action? What was their original intention in creating your library? What got them so motivated? If you want to re-energize and re-focus, try reconnecting with the founding purpose of your organization.

Start there, at the beginning, but also remember that organizations are like people; they are capable of changing and growing. The cells in our bodies today are not the same cells that were in our bodies when we were born. We are, physically speaking, a completely different set of atoms. Yet there is still some organizing energy that makes you, you and makes me, me. Ten years ago we were different people, but I was me and you were you. Our goals may have changed since then. We may have acquired new skills and abilities. The roles we play may have changed, evolved, grown. Maybe we’ve abandoned certain roles in exchange for others that make more sense for us. This is also true about your library. The people may have changed, the building may have changed, and the mission may have even shifted, but it’s still the same library. So start with the founding vision, but also think about what vision animates your library today. And what vision might animate it tomorrow?

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: A FEW JUICY QUESTIONS

To reconnect to your library’s purpose, it might be helpful to explore these questions:

  • What juicy vision gave birth to our library?
  • How does that vision inform, animate, shape, and energize what we do today?
  • What is the purpose of our library today? Is the vision the same? If not, how has it changed?
  • Why does the library continue to exist?
  • What energy flows through this library, connecting all aspects of it?
  • What purpose does the library serve?
  • What purpose can the library serve?
  • What purpose do we want the library to serve?
  • What purpose do I want the library to serve?
  • What can I do to bring the juicy vision to life every day?

I’m sure there are other questions that I’m not seeing. If you see others to add to the list, please leave a comment–and tell me about your library’s juicy vision!

March 14, 2008 at 11:48 am 1 comment

Ten Questions to Ask Every New Employee

Kate Sheehan had a wonderful post a week or so ago, Customer Service Mind, Beginner Mind, in which she writes about the value of looking at things with a fresh eye. It reminded me that every time I ever started a new job, I was hyper-aware of all the wacky things about my new organization; the signs that had been taped to the door since 1973: the restrictive (or just plain arbitrary and weird) policies that seemed to have no rhyme nor reason; the lack of basic equipment available for staff (no sliderules or abaci, but close.)

These awarenesses weren’t always negative. Sometimes I was aware of the amazing benefit package that everyone else seemed to take for granted (or even grumble about) ; or an incredibly efficient work flow or communication mechanism — like a wall in the staff room with everyone’s picture (Facebook 1.0), or a Director that was actually available to speak with employees.

NEW EMPLOYEE AWARENESS FADES AWAY

But no matter how strong or strange these awarenesses were, they always faded away within the first few weeks on the job. It didn’t take long before my new environment would simply register as “normal.” Seriously, there could have been a chimpanzee in a tuxedo singing the star-spangled banner in the lobby; but if he was there on day 1 and day 2, by day 3, I’d be nodding and saying, “morning George, you sound good today. Nice job on the bow-tie…” In other words, I can’t underestimate the power of our brains to adapt and reset the benchmark for normal experience.

I always thought that those first few weeks as a new employee, when everyone told me everything and more, but no one asked me for MY thoughts or impressions, were a wasted opportunity. So when I became a department manager I made it part of the orientation process to squeeze these observations out of all new employees. I would literally take new employees to lunch and tell them that for the next few weeks, their perceptions were extremely valuable and encourage them to share with me if there was ANYTHING that we did that seemed odd, inefficient, wasteful, or stupid. Or amazing, creative, and blazingly brilliant.

If you can manage to get this data — heck, even one tiny piece of datum — from your new employees (give them a break now and then from reading the 250 page employee manual), you’ll have gotten some very useful information.

So. Submitted for your approval, here are my  [drum-roll please...]

TOP TEN QUESTIONS TO ASK EVERY NEW EMPLOYEE

  1. What was your first impression when you walked into the library?
  2. What are your impressions of the aesthetic environment inside the building? What could we do to improve it?
  3. What are your impressions of the aesthetic environment outside the building? What could we do to improve it?
  4. What are we doing that strikes you as wasteful — of time or money?
  5. What services are you surprised to learn that we are offering, for better or worse?
  6. What services are you surprised to learn that we are NOT offering, for better or worse?
  7. Are there any policies that you don’t understand the rationale for? Are there any policies that strike you as just plain nuts?
  8. What are your impressions of our website?
  9. What was your experience like when you called the library? What are your impressions of our phone system?
  10. What are your impressions of our customer service orientation? Are we customer-focused? What could we do to be more so?

     

    BONUS QUESTIONS (for the brave ones out there)

  11.  

  12. How friendly (or unfriendly) did the staff seem when you first walked in the door?
  13. What are we doing that strikes you as straight-up bat sh*t crazy?

If you consistently ask these questions of your new employees, you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to recapture the newness of seeing, if only briefly, through borrowed, “beginner mind” eyes.

January 16, 2008 at 6:29 pm 15 comments

Five Questions that will improve your effectiveness

I recently stumbled across a wonderful little book called Leadership Simple: Leading People to Lead Themselves, by Steve and Jill Morris. It’s based on Dr. William Glasser’s “Choice Theory” (which suggests, among other things, that the only person whose behavior we control is our own) and Glasser’s “Reality Therapy” (which suggests that we choose our actions and we are responsible for our choices.)

The authors use a fictional case study written in narrative format to illustrate the process of “Lead Management”, or “self-evaluating, and leading other to do the same.” The principles are also presented in bullet-point format in an appendix, which makes it very easy to quickly review the main points.

The Lead Management process involves walking oneself (and later others) through five basic questions:

  1. What do you want?
  2. What are you doing to get it?
  3. Is it working?
  4. What else can you do?
    (I like to throw in an extra one here: “What am I willing to do”)
  5. What WILL you do?

The authors suggest that when using the process, we spend the majority of our time on steps 1-4, thinking, talking, analyzing, generating options and generating more options. Finally, we decide what we WILL do and commit to an action.

I’ve realized that in the past I’ve sometimes rushed through steps 1-4, failing to think deeply enough and generate enough options. But more often I’ve spent too much time on steps 1-4, enjoying the process of exploration and never getting to a commitment to action.

What appeals to me about this process, and the underlying philosophy, is that it is deeply grounded in personal responsibility. Consider this quote from the book:

“You are accountable for the meaning you place on the information you receive. for what you want, and the behaviors you choose to get what you want.”

And this one:

“People are going to do things. Events will occur. In essence, whatever happens outside your mind is information. You get to choose what that information means, what importance you place on your perceptions of that information, and how it fits with what you already know.”

One value in adopting this perspective is that it takes us out of victimhood. We can’t simultaneously take responsibility for the meaning we ascribe to events and to the behavior of others AND feel like a victim. This is highly empowering. Victimhood, whether experienced individually or as an organizational or professional culture or belief system, gets us nowhere. When we perceive ourselves as victims we are less likely to invest our energy in trying to change or influence events. However, when we take responsibility for our perceptions and the meanings we ascribe to them, we become grounded in a place of power, and we are more likely to make conscious choices regarding our behavior. We are more likely to take concrete steps and try to exert our influence on outcomes.

The commitment to action (the “what we WILL do”) is the final step in the Lead Management model. The process, however, is circular. This means we can choose to go back to earlier steps and re-evaluate what’s working, what’s not, and generate more options. We may even decide to re-evaluate at step 1, and look at whether or not we still want what we originally wanted. We may discover that our original goals have shifted over time in the light of new experience and knowledge.

The Lead Management process is designed to beused for self-coaching and the coaching of others. But I think the process of working through the five questions could also be effectively used to guide decision-making for departments and organizations by re-phrasing the questions:

  1. What do we want to achieve? (What is our mission? What is our goal?)
  2. What are we doing to get achieve our mission/goals?
  3. Is it working?
  4. What else can we do to achieve our mission/goals?
    (“What are we willing to do”)
  5. What WILL we do?

Over the past year I’ve been acting as a personal coach to a friend/colleague (and as I move into 2008 I will be doing more, and will begin receiving formal training from a professional coach.) Coaching, as opposed to mentoring, is about asking questions, not giving advice. So far my experience with coaching (both as a coach and coachee) has been very positive, and I can see how the five questions of the Lead Management process could be integrated into an effective coaching session.

Now maybe it’s a bit early to be making New Year’s resolutions (although tech support people are already wishing me a “Merry Christmas”) but maybe I can set a New Year’s Intention:

  1. What do I intend?
    I intend to learn to effectively coach myself and others.

  2. What am I doing to get it?
    Setting up agreement to be coached by (and trained by) an experienced professional coach; Setting up agreement to coach a colleague.

  3. Is it working?
    TBD…
  4. What else can I do?
    Read books listed on coaching bibliography provided to me by an experienced coach.
  5. What WILL I do?
    TBD… Share my coaching experiences on Library Garden!

December 10, 2007 at 1:30 pm 1 comment

10 Principles of Improv and why you should care

I’ve been meaning to get to two posts for months now: A post about Toastmasters (the toast post) and a post about taking improv classes in Philly. Well, this is a (slightly modified) version of a Toastmasters speech I recently gave about my experience with improv. Two birds, and all that :-)

A few months ago I started taking Improv classes in Philadelphia on Monday nights. I signed up for improv not because I have a burning desire to be the next Will Ferrell or Mike Myers, nor any illusions that you’ll soon be seeing me on the big screen or on SNL. What inspired me to sign up for class was a small, remarkable book called Truth in Comedy, written by Charna Halpern, Kim Johnson, and Del Close (one of the most important influences in modern day comedy improv. Just look at the list of folks he mentored!)

The more I read about improv, the more I realized that the principles of good improv are also the principles of living a good, centered, happy, connected, and fulfilled life. So today I’d like to take a few minutes to share 10 improv principles with you, and tell you a little bit about my experience of the past eighteen weeks learning to doing improv.

First I think it’s useful to briefly address the question, “What is Improv?” Inevitably when I tell someone I’m learning to do improv, they say something like, “Oh standup comedy, I could see you doing that.” So let’s clear this up right away: Improv is not stand up comedy. In many ways it is the antithesis of stand up. Stand up is generally written, memorized, practiced and polished. It’s also (usually) a solitary activity. Improv is spontaneous, free-flowing and created on the spot. It’s also (usually) a team sport.

Often it’s the unscripted nature of improv that is most associated with the form, and for that reason many people say things like, “You’re doing improv—isn’t that hard? Isn’t that scary to work without a script? To have to make it up on the spot?” To which I can only reply with a scratch of my chin, “Hmmm… Having to make it all up on the spot… That sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before??? Oh yeah!!… it’s what we do every single day of our lives!”
Look, not only can anyone do improv, we are in fact, all of us, doing improv all the time.

Let me ask you: When you were born, were you handed a script that layed out all of your lines so you’d know just the right thing to say and do for the rest of your life? I don’t think you got that script. I don’t know anyone who got that script. I know I didn’t get that script. So we’re doing improv all the time. All the time. Every day. You. Me. Them. We’re improv-ing baby!

And you may have noticed that IN our unscripted lives, sometimes, ‘stuff’ happens. And learning and practicing the principles of improv can help us deal with that stuff.

TEN PRINCIPLES OF IMPROV


Principle 1: Be prepared (Warm up!)

In my improv class we don’t rehearse scenes, but we do practice. We do train to learn and internalize certain structures and methods the way jazz improvisers learn scales. Before getting into scene work, we activate our minds and bodies by playing games; games that will help ground us physically and emotionally to characters we create in scenes. Sometimes we play 2 or 3 games at once to help sharpen our awareness and listening skills and get us out of our heads. Props to the Boy Scouts on this one.

Principle 2: Willingness

Willingness to do what you ask? A lot. We have to be willing to fail, and fail spectacularly. Since we don’t know what’s coming next, we have to accept that we may get knocked off balance. Therefore we have to be willing to mess up –and mess up big time.

Being willing to fail spectacularly means being willing to take risks. Lack of success is not due to trying and failing; it’s due to not trying, often out of a fear of failure. Being willing to fail means being willing to look foolish. It’s been said that we wouldn’t care so much about what people thought about us if we realized how seldom they do. If we’re not willing to look foolish doing improv then we won’t risk, we won’t commit, and the scenes will lack energy and direction. Being willing to risk reconnects us with the zest and energy of life. When we risk, our senses our heightened, our adrenaline is flowing. It’s a rush.

Finally, we have to be willing to make mistakes. The point is not that there are no consequences. Rather, it’s accepting that if we are truly risking there is no question that we WILL make mistakes. But we also realize that others are there to help dig us out of our mistakes. And ultimately it’s our mistakes that lead us to growth and improvement. We learn to choose better next time.

Principle 3: Stay in the Moment

In improv what is happening NOW is the key to discovery. I was at a Library Futures conference recently and heard someone say, “I’m very interested in the future because that’s where most of my life will happen.” That got a big laugh. Well I’m very interested in this moment, because that’s where ALL of my life has happened. And I’m pretty sure that’s where most of the action is. (Coincidentally, it was at the library futures conference that Mary Catherine Bateson suggested that the best way to prepare for the future is to take an improv class…)

Principle 4: Shut up and Listen

Good improvisers are not necessarily more clever, or more quick-witted. They just listen better… Improv is about hearing what others are offering, and building off it. It’s hard to do that when your gums are flappin’.

Principle 5. Action beats inaction

Don’t talk about doing it, do it. Be specific. In Improv there is a “bias for action”. I’ve also seen the term “bias for action” listed as a common trait of effective leaders. Why? Because active choices move things forward. The more specific the choice the better. Specific choices are committed choices. Specific choices move things forward and allow others to respond to and build off of your offers.

Principle 6. Be honest

In improv we are taught to express whatever is coming up in us at that moment. To do that we have to learn not to censor or judge our own thoughts, which requires some major rewiring of the brain… The only value we bring to the scene is our honest response to what’s happening.

Principle 7: Let go of (your need to) control

The only thing we can control are our own choices. Realizing that we are not in control of anything else is the key to de-stressing and getting into the flow. And the flow is where we are creative. The flow is where we are productive. The flow is where we are connected to others. The flow is where we are happy. [an aside] Interestingly… What happens when we stop focusing energy on things that we can’t control? That energy gets focused on things that we can control, and ironically, we end up exerting more influence.

Principle 8. There are no mistakes

Earlier I said that we have to be willing to make mistakes. But moving beyond that, we learn to not see choices as mistakes. In improv, there are no mistakes or bad ideas, there are only interesting choices. We respect all the choices (aka offers) made by others, and find ways to build off of them, no matter how challenging they may be. There are no mistakes because everything can be built upon. Everything that happens is an opportunity.

Principle 9: Trust

Learning improv we learn to trust ourselves. We trust our impulses and our choices (which we can do because there are no mistakes, and we are not alone.) And we learn to trust in others (to “justify” our “interesting choices”, build off them, and weave them into the fabric of the scene.) When learning to trust our ideas, it helps to remember that ideas are infinite. So no matter what strange hole it seems we’ve dug ourselves into in a scene, there are an infinite number of ideas that can help dig us out.

Principle 10. Teamwork (row, row, row)

We’re all in this together. No one person is responsible for the success or failure of a scene. It succeeds, or not, based on our ability to work together. This requires strong individuals making strong choices, who trust each other and themselves. As a group, we learn to focus on solutions. As individuals we learn to focus on getting results (i.e. moving the scene forward) instead of being right, or angling for attention or credit. We rise, or fall, as one.

The Uber Principle: “Yes, and…”

So there are the big 10 principles of improv as seen by an improv newbie. But I’d like to conclude by mentioning one final improv principle. It’s a principle that runs through all the others and infuses improv with it’s spirit. This is the principle of “Yes, and”. “Yes, and” means that we accept everything that happens as an offer, as a gift. It is our job to bring our unique perspective to bear, and build off of whatever is given to us. “Yes and” implies acceptance, but not acquiescence. “Yes and” acknowledges the reality of the moment, but also inspires us to create the future.

In the end, “Yes and” is a powerful attitude of affirmation. It is an attitude that affirms ourselves, and therefore gives courage. It is an attitude that affirms others, and therefore inspires trust. And it is an attitude that affirms what is and therefore inspires hope and excitement for the possibilities of what may be as we join together to create our shared future.

July 6, 2007 at 12:21 pm 10 comments


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Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed on this blog are those of the authors and are not intended to reflect the views of our employers.

A Note on the history of posts

Please note that all Library Garden posts dated earlier than September 13,2009 originally appeared on our Blogger site. These posts have been imported to this site as a convenience when searching the entire site for content.

If you are interested in seeing the original post, with formatting and comments in tact, please bring up the original post at our old Blogger site.

Thanks for reading Library Garden!

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