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NASAGA '06 conference, day 4 of 4

Posted by wwake on October 14, 2006 at 11:02 PM PDT

Keynote: Spontaneous Brilliance, by Kat Koppett

Kat described aspects of improv, and how it can be used to create an environment where brilliance emerges.

The first rule - celebrating failure. "Exercise the courage muscle - our willingness to be creative and take risks. We don't do it by creating a safe environment, we do it by creating an incredibly risky environment." "Celebrate failure and realize it's ok. Think of mistakes as gifts." "Creativity is by definition an act of courage." That allows us to tap into our spontaneity.

We did a rapid word association exercise. "This activity outs the judge in our head. We may need to judge sometimes, but that censor already gets a lot of practice and support." People described a variety of rules they made up for themselves, and that got in the way.
"We evaluate things that don't need to be evaluated."

A second rule - "Trust your impulses." One activity is "brain fries," that overload the system so hard you can't judge. Spontaneity is a muscle too. Give offers - make stuff up. "Most of creativity is not making up things inside ourselves - it's responding to input". "Yes, And is the fundamental improviser's mantra." "All we have is the offers our partners make."

In brainstorming, you accept and build, saying "yes, and" as well. But improvisers mean something more profound. "There are offers out in the world - anything that's present." Some offers are more open to interpretation. "How can I use these offers?" vs. brainstorming. For the improv offer, you don't have to like it, the offer just is. Ignore offers at your own peril.

"Yes, And" doesn't imply agreement with a situation. Sometimes you can just name a situation - "I see you're rolling your eyes." "It's harder than you think - and it's easier than you think."

It can be rough to create in a team - we have shared responsibility and shared control. "The clearer I am on my idea, the harder it is to collaborate."

Another secret of improv is "Be obvious - dare to be boring." Kat worked with Performance of a Lifetime, which isn't afraid to back up and untangle blocking or poor listening.

What happens when we're under stress? Some people become drivers, trying to take charge; others are wimps, giving up and failing to continue making offers.

Summary: Be aware of the rules you make in your head. Use offers to engage. Note that there are many ways to say "no" without using the word "no". The "and" is as important as the "yes."

Look at our lives as improv scenes. We can see and accept more offers. We can get better at recognizing the huge range of choices we have. "We can create wonderful plays with each other."

(I loved this talk - and I'd love to hear Kat at the Agile software conference.)

Session: Unleashing Your Brilliance, by Brian Walsh.

This session used a number of physical "tricks" applied in the hope of improving the functioning of your brain. (Do they work? I don't have enough experience to say.)

Example: keep moving your foot clockwise, then write a 6 in the air with your hand.

The pain/pleasure principle - we move away from pain, and toward pleasure. "A decision to move toward something is more powerful than a decision to move away from something."

Enriched learning has multiple related topics: water, multiple intelligences, music, NLP, kinesiology, memory, the brain, total physical response, accelerated learning. (He made a concept map to show this.) Claim: "pictures are three times as good as repetition."

We have control of 70% of the effects of age on the brain - through physical exercise, learning, water, food, sleep, etc. we can help that part.

Brain Gym (tm) - kinesiology and whole-brain together. Example: Cross crawl - touch left knee with right hand, then right knee with left hand, repeat a few minutes. This is designed to help integrate the left and right parts of the brain. Example: "Brain buttons", "K27" in acupuncture - two spots located 1" below and to the right of the collarbone: rub these spots to get more oxygen.

The reward center lights up stronger for unexpected rewards.

Neuro-linguistic programming talks about the three modalities: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

Exercise - eye dominance. Hold hands at arm's length with a small triangle gap, then close each eye separately. The image will jump for the non-dominant eye. We have dominant ears and dominant feet too. When do these factors count? When we're under stress, and when we're learning new material.

Exercise - earlobe roll. Exercise - jaw massage.

Exercise - hold hands at arm's length with thumb up. Move thumb in an "infinity" (sideways 8) pattern. Make the eyes follow the thumb, but don't move your head. This is to activate different parts of the brain. Ex: NLP believes we habitually access imagination when we look at one quadrant, and memory in another.

Presenter's trick - move to the opposite side of the room from the questioner during question time. This helps that person project their voice further, and helps keep the rest of the room engaged.

Presenter's trick: wear at least a little red.

Multiple intelligences - Howard Gardner. Gardner thinks of schools as traditionally focusing on math/logic and linguistic intelligence. But there are others: interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, music, spatial, kinesthetic, etc.

Memories are fragmented and stored in multiple places. Memory can't be trusted. Involving lots of senses gives us a better chance of recall.

Basic Rest Activity Cycle - every 90 to 120 minutes, the dominance of left and right brains moves back and forth. The left brain corresponds to activity, the right to rest. During sleep, we get a sine wave at a deeper level. Take advantage of the troughs; try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, try to come out of sleep when you're nearer the "top" anyway.

Application: proofread an important email ~40 minutes after writing it, in case it was written while the left brain was inactive.

Key points: Water, breathing, and the comfort zone. Physical activities. Moving away, moving towards. Seeing the big picture creates file folders in your brain. The Basic Rest Activity Cycle.

Session: Captivating Your Audiences through Storytelling, by Carla Rieger.

We worked through an exercise exploring what makes stories work or not work, and our strengths and weaknesses as storytellers.

In using stories, there are several challenges. Keep the story short (possibly 5 minutes, not longer than 10 normally). Make it personal, not the "starfish story." Choose a topic demonstrating challenges, discoveries, or decisions.

Carla adapted the Satir change model as the model of the story: old status quo (setting the old platform), tilting the platform, consequences, transforming idea, getting back to stability, new platform.

As an exercise, we identified a number of possible stories, then told one to each other and identified the various parts according to the model. (It's a lot easier for someone else to identify parts in your story than to do it yourself.) We turned it into 5 sentences, and then made tableaus demonstrating the sentences.

I talked to the instructor at break, as I felt like a lot of my story ideas just reflected a situation that "corrected itself" and to some extent I was floating along in that situation. It seemed like a story with no real point.

For my story in the exercise, I used a personal situation that felt like it resolved itself with a boring non-event. My revelation in this was that what I thought was the transforming event ("the problem went away on its own") was not - what counted was my reaction to a troublesome situation where I decided to let it work itself out as much as possible. Understanding this left me with unexpected tears.

In the followup discussion, several things came out. A key one is that many times, you need to figure out the point of the story to know how to structure it. Having someone reflect the story back can help with this. Another easy-to-fix problem is the tendency to jump into the story and ignore the context. Carla called her story model "story paint by numbers", but pointed out that many movies and stories fit the pattern, and that you can play with the pattern once you understand it.

Finally, Carla suggested some next steps to really make story skill-building happen:

  • Put each sentence (of the 5 keys points) at the top of a page, and flesh it out (written or oral).
  • Practice saying the story aloud, and rewrite it as you go.
  • Try it with colleagues/video/audio. Fix what's missing, and what needs to be cut. Figure out what the story is really about. Do "act outs".
  • Rehearse 20 times.
  • Send Carla the result by next Friday.

I really appreciated this session. Stories are important, and I'm working on being better at telling them. This session will definitely help.

Good-bye 2006, Hello 2007

The next conference is
October 10-13, 2007, in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

I'll definitely be there.

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