“The improviser's mindset is about being driven by inspiration and play instead of letting fear stop us.”
Have you ever wondered how some people are always able to stay relaxed under pressure, no matter what gets thrown at them? Or why some leaders always seem to be able to develop highly productive teams that achieve huge things in the face of uncertainty?
These aren’t qualities only a select few people are born with… they’re skills that you can learn. And, they are the same skills that today’s guests, Betsy Crouch and Zoe Galvez, teach people around world, using improv comedy!
In today’s discussion with Jon Berghoff, Betsy and Zoe share how the principles of improv can help you stay creative and loose in the midst of unexpected challenges, as well as bring out the best in yourself and those around you at the same time.
Ready to learn how Zoe and Betsy use the principles of improv comedy to achieve their goals and impact the people around them?
- The 6 principles of improv and how they can help to anchor your day.
- How to befriend fear and turn the unknown into opportunity.
- The Improviser’s Mindset—learn how to embrace play and bring out the best in yourself & others.
- How to foster an organizational environment that encourages collaboration.
- Discover the #1 characteristic of a high performing team.
- And much more!
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
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Jon: Achieve Your Goals Podcast listeners, it’s Jon Berghoff here and I am here with Betsy Crouch and Zoe Galvez. These are the co-founders of Improv HQ, executive coaches, trainers, keynote speakers. Now depending on which part of your audience you are a part of, you know these ladies one of many different ways. You may have seen them at our Best Year Ever Blueprint Event. Maybe you work for one of the many companies that they’ve been brought into all around the world. They’ve keynoted some of the biggest industry events in the fields of positive psychology. They were at the Global Forum for Business for Good. Earlier this year I got to see them there. So, you might know them from one of many different places. I have the good fortune of knowing them going back to, maybe even before they were ImprovHQ, when I was at Vitamix, leading up sales there, and they came in year after year after year not just to entertain but to teach some incredible lessons about collaborating, about being resilient, about learning how to deal with challenges in life through the power and the entertainment of Improv. We have none other than Betsy Crouch and Zoe Galvez. Ladies, how are you doing today?
Zoe: Wonderful. Thank you.
Betsy: Yes. We’re doing great. Thank you so much for having us. Hello, everyone.
Jon: And if you’re watching on the live stream by the way, you’re welcome to chime in with comments, questions, thoughts. I’ll make my best effort to kind of moderate although those of you that have been around the block with us you know that it can be a little tricky real-time but we’ll do our best. So, if you have comments or questions for Betsy or Zoe, please drop them right there in the chat box and if you’re listening to this afterwards, well drive safely, run faster, do whatever you’re doing with joy. So, ladies, where do we want to start? Where do we want to start? Here’s what I want to talk about today. I’d love to talk about the deep, deep, deep value that you have been bringing to the world through your work and we could start wherever you want with that. We could start with how I first got to know you and work with you when I was at Vitamix. You have delivered incredibly at our Best Year Ever Blueprint Event year after year. You’re going to be there with all of us in less than three weeks from today.
Betsy: It’s very cool then.
Jon: Yeah. It’s going to be cool. And I just realized as I’m watching the screen and as I’m standing here, this is the first time I’ve done one of these interviews with two people on the other side. How about that?
Zoe: How about that?
Jon: How about that? Ladies, where do you want to start? Do you want to start with who you are, what you do, what your mission is on this planet? And then I know we can go a lot of different directions.
Zoe: Absolutely. Well, there’s a lot of preconceived notions about what Improv is. It’s more than just telling jokes or being funny. There’s actually rigorous training that goes on behind the scenes. And Improv really is an operating system that can be used by any team and I would dare say an individual to bring out the best in yourself and one another.
Betsy: So, for that reason, we help executives, teams, and organizations improve their communication and collaboration skills to also increase innovation, develop thriving cultures through interactive learning experiences based in the principles of Improv.
Zoe: Yeah. We’d like to call Improv an interactive mindfulness practice. So, if you’re working on your solo mindfulness practice, this is an opportunity to actually bring that awareness in your daily interactions whether that’s personal or at work.
Betsy: Also, the principles of Improv are to help us create a story in the moment on the spot without any preplanning which are the same principles that you can use and that those of you who do the Miracle Morning which we love and do, you’re taking the opportunity to create the story that you want to be a part of. And these principles can be infused, as Zoe said, into your individual life no matter what role that is in your life or with a team or an organization.
Zoe: Absolutely. And just like SAVERS are an anchor for your day, the Improv principles also are an anchor for your day. So, the Improv principles are intentional listening…
Betsy: Make your teammate the hero.
Zoe: The power of presence.
Betsy: Resilient response.
Zoe: Open to yes.
Betsy: And voice your ideas.
Zoe: And that spells Improv. And that part was not improvised.
Jon: All right. Hey, so this is great. Intentional listening. Give me the next three or four again. I’m writing this down and then we’re going to dive into it.
Zoe: Make your teammate the hero.
Jon: Make your teammate the hero. Great.
Zoe: Power of presence.
Jon: Yep. Great.
Betsy: Resilient response.
Zoe: Open to yes and voice your ideas.
Jon: Awesome. All right. So, we got to unpack some of these. Resilient response, open to yes and voice your ideas. So, hey, there’s a couple of things that the two of you, at this point I can’t remember who said it, but you just mentioned a couple of things that I think are really a big deal and deserve the exploration of. So, one of them is I think Zoe you mentioned that Improv is a, it’s like an interactive mindfulness practice. And I just want to draw attention to that because, well, anyone who’s a part of our Achieve Your Goals Community, our Best Year Ever Blueprint Event or our Quantum Leap Mastermind members, they know that Hal and I really believed deeply in that mindfulness is on the rise not just because it’s a well-marketed idea but because the world is also asking for it. And so, this whole idea of an interactive mindfulness practice, that sounds really interesting. I mean can you share a little bit of more about when you’re working with – and I know you’ve worked with whether it’s people in the tech space to doctors. You’re helping people to figure out how to work better together which for anyone who is a part of this community figuring out how to collaborate can be a huge like unlocking skillset for all of us. What are some of the things that you’ve learned as you’re out there doing this really creative work, helping people figure out how to have this interactive mindfulness practice?
Betsy: Well, one of the things that we’ve discovered is that in this world where everything is changing, it almost feels like the world is shifting beneath our feet and things that we thought were certain, now seems to be a little bit uncertain. And we go into our day thinking that we’re going to give a speech or presentation to our team about a certain topic and then we get information right beforehand that we needed to take it at a different direction. So, this is an experience that many of us are finding ourselves in and many clients are coming to us with help. Now, what we get to practice is being in the moment and present with one another so that we can make the adjustment and communication, make the adjustment in the moment. And, Jon, this is something that you do extremely well as a speaker and a facilitator is that you practice mindfulness and you also practice interactive mindfulness in your conversations and when you’re facilitating. So, if something happens in the room…
Zoe: Right. If something emerges, you have the opportunity to say yes and to that moment instead of getting stuck on your agenda. So, sometimes we get very rigid with our agenda and our planning and really something beautiful might be emerging and if we are not mindful, if we are not listening, then we might not see that opportunity. And you’re really good at seeing that opportunity and then finding ways to pull that out and put a spotlight on that opportunity and highlight it.
Betsy: Now, the dark side of this is when a leader decides they need to stick with their agenda. They need to control what’s going to happen next and we have experienced the negative experience that that can create. It can alienate people. It can diminish trust and respect to not being willing and able to acknowledge what’s currently happening in the moment. So, establishing a culture that has courage to name what’s happening and to make that adjustment is something that many people are asking us for and that we’re able to help with.
Zoe: Right. It’s naming the elephant in the room, seeing what’s really raw and alive and true in that moment.
Jon: Yeah. This is something I personally have become really curious about and one of the teachers that I’ve become a big fan of is a gentleman named Otto Scharmer out of MIT and he pioneered a theory called Theory U which is it’s all about how we can connect at the deepest levels to the present moment in ways where we connect so deeply that we can become a part of the orchestrating emerging future. And I know that’s a whole bunch of words right there but one of the things that he teaches that I feel like the two of you are masterful at enabling groups of people to do and I’d love to know how do you help people do this. Or if someone’s listening, how can they get out of their own way from wanting to keep things as they are when they need to learn how to open up? And he teaches this idea that we have to learn how to open our minds and open our hearts. It’s only from that place that we can really become present to what I would then could call to be able to be flexible, right, in ways that are necessary. So, I’m just curious, any thoughts you have? Because you have helped so many people to overcome a closed way of thinking or a closed way of being. And now you do it in incredible experiential ways but what could you convey to us for someone who’s just listening so that someone could figure out how to open themselves up a little bit more to what’s possible?
Betsy: Yes. Well, what we do in our interactive experiences is that we do exercises that help people touch into something that we hold as a core belief which is the story that we can create together is better. What we’re capable of creating together is better than what any one of us can bring individually. And until an individual leader or participant starts to tap into that belief, they’re going to have some resistance to this idea of, “Oh, I should maybe take a step back a little bit.” You know we have the honor of speaking at UCLA a few years ago. Dr. Dan Siegel invited us to speak and we are on a panel with Alanis Morissette and the conversation was around healing and creativity. And she said something that we both loved which is one plus one equals eight. This idea that when Zoe and I interacting and tell a story together that is going to be exponentially more rich, open up to new possibilities than what one of us can create individually.
Zoe: Right. Exactly. And so, many of us really want to control everything and yet we’re not able to give our team members their scripts for the day. If only there was a script on our desk every morning where we knew exactly what was going to happen. And Improv really is training for the unexpected and it’s becoming friends with the unknown, becoming more comfortable with the unknown and there’s so much unknown right now. And so, how can you live and breathe in those moments rather than going into panic? And when going to panic that’s when we want to control things, and yet we really can’t. And then our mind starts playing tricks with us like what if this terrible thing happened? What if this terrible thing happened? So, for improvisers, it’s like, what if we play that in a positive? What if something incredible happens? And have that faith that something wonderful is going to emerge but it’s a matter of having faith and trust in your team. By the way, speaking of Alanis Morissette, just hot off the presses, this just came in the mail.
Jon: Oh, look at this, special treat. If you’re watching the live stream, if you’re listening, the ladies are holding up a book that they contributed to. So, tell us about this. Play and Creativity. Tell us about this.
Zoe: Play and Creativity in Psychotherapy. So, if you’re a therapist, doctor, this book is for you and we contributed a chapter on improvisation in psychotherapy, how you can help your patients using the principles of improv.
Betsy: Our chapter is called Developing the Improviser’s Mindset, Getting People Out of Their Stuck Places. And so, this is exactly what we’re talking about, about being in a space of humility and willingness to accept that I may not have all the answers. We’re writing a book. This we contributed a chapter. We’re writing a whole book that Zoe and I are the authors of which is called The Unscripted Leader. And what exemplified…
Jon: I love that.
Betsy: Thank you. Thank you. And what exemplifies an unscripted leader, there are several elements that exemplifies an unscripted leader. One of the elements is humility, is the willingness to say, you know what, I may not have all the answers. And we know David Cooperrider says we live in a world our questions create, that willingness to be curious instead of coming into meeting with a scripted agenda of what we have to do and this is my idea and my vision, we have to get this done.
Zoe: And I’ll add something to that. Of course, it’s okay to have an agenda and that’s a framework to help you rather than it being crutch where it hinders you and you got so stuck there. Because again, something else might be emerging in the moment and there might be a brilliant question that’s posed by the team that we need to explore and the willingness to go there.
Betsy: I’m really glad you said that, Zoe, because we aren’t suggesting as leaders that you “wing it” or just show up to a meeting or suggesting that a principle of the unscripted leader is doing the homework, committing to excellence, having a plan, having an agenda and being willing to let go of that plan if something changes or something new emerges.
Zoe: Yeah. As actors, we say do the homework and then let it go. Do the homework and let it go.
Jon: Our good friend Mona Kenna at FLI says, “Plan tight and hang loose.”
Zoe: There you go.
Jon: That reminds me of the last five years, I’ve been doing a lot of studying in the area of systems and trying to understand what can we learn when we look at a system especially a living system like nature in those principles that apply to our teams, our organizations, communities, families. And one of those teachers, Danah Zohar, who wrote a fantastic book called Spiritual Capital, one of the things she talks about is if you look at a living system, one of the underlying principles and there’s 12 of them and they’re like gravity. Whether or not we realize it, gravity is what keeps us standing on the ground. There are principles that are at play all the time within any living system, any group of people. And one of them, if you look at nature, is what we would call spontaneity. And some people what you just said reminds me that people often think of spontaneity as almost a recklessness when in actuality, spontaneity comes from being hyper-present, so present that I’m now able to capture new opportunities and new possibilities. That if I wasn’t present enough because I’m just controlled by my previous thinking, I’m just going to miss what’s right in front of me. And I’m reminded about by what you just said.
So, that leads me to question which is so much of what you teach when you just alluded to this, but I really want to hear more about this is the power of and the importance of play. In my opinion is that the large majority of people who go to work every day are not necessarily stepping into environments where play is a core part of what they do. And I also believe that most people don’t fully appreciate the deep power of play. The two of you are experts in it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the importance of play and the role that it can play in our ability to work together.
Zoe: Sure. So, I want to go back to that comment that you just made about our thoughts controlling us for a moment and then I’m going to connect with play which is we’re talking about the improviser’s mindset. The improviser’s mindset is about being driven by inspiration and play instead of allowing fear to stop us. Because so many of us have that fear of failure or fear of rejection. Fear is driving so many of us and so many leaders. As you mentioned, we do a lot of executive coaching and we have found that fear even though leaders really won’t talk about it publicly is something that really comes up for each individual. And it looks different for different people. Like I said, sometimes it’s fear of rejection or fear of failure, of not being perfect. That’s mine. I was a perfectionist. That’s why I started taking improv because improv isn’t perfect and to let go of that need to have every moment be exactly perfect. And I learned that I can have compassion for myself in those moments where maybe things don’t go quite as planned, maybe it isn’t perfect. And yet I can still love myself in those moments. So, that’s my fear. And I think Improv allows us to get in touch with what that fear might be and then befriend that fear. And so, this idea of play really is about tapping into that part of yourself that’s inspired instead of the fear. It’s like replacing the fear with inspiration. So, we operate from a place of inspiration like how can I create my day today? How can I create the culture that I want to create for my organization? How can I create an exceptional experience for my customer?
Betsy: How can I create an exceptional experience for my partner at home?
Zoe: Right. Dr. John Gottman says that you have to say yes to your partner 87% of the time to have a great marriage. So, how often are we really doing that with our own partners at home? All these principles can be applied at home as well as business.
Betsy: You know, as far as play goes, we really have, I don’t like this phrase, but throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I really don’t like that phrase, yet it’s a phrase that gets…
Jon: It’s kind of interesting if you visualize it but…
Betsy: There’s an interesting history to that phrase but anyway…
Jon: We’ll come back. Don’t worry.
Betsy: It’ll be part two of history/origins of words and phrases. As far as play goes, Dan Siegel, the reason why he invited us to speak at this conference and contribute to this book for psychotherapists is because he started studying Improv. And what he discovered, and his background is in psychiatry so he’s a psychiatrist who’s a New York Times Bestselling author on many books about mindfulness and also raising children. Yet, what he says is Improv gets us into a state of receptivity. And so, on one hand in the business world when people say, “Oh, we don’t have time to play. We need to be serious,” when we say that’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater is because play gives us an opportunity to grow, to see things from new perspectives, to build relationships, to build trust, it improves our health and well-being, the amount of oxygen in our blood goes up. I mean, there’s all sorts of physiological, mental, psychological, emotional benefits. Stuart Brown, who’s an expert on play and research, he was speaking at that conference and he said to us after our session, he’s in his 80s and he said, “When I grow up, I want to work for you guys.” It was a huge honor. I mean he’s dedicated his whole career to studying play and the benefits of play. And so, we obviously are true believers in this and we work really hard to draw the connections to relevant skill building, relevant application, building relationships.
Zoe: And I would dare to say that play really is that interactive mindfulness practice. You’re in it together. You’re laughing together. Laughter is the shortest distance between two people. And the teams that are having let’s say difficulties, challenges with communication and collaboration, we get in there and we have them play and then suddenly everything just shifts. I would dare say it’s magical to watch.
Betsy: You know, I have to say something about, Zoe. Your skills as a teacher and I would say, I mean, we’re writing about the unscripted leader, yet when you and I first met, and I started to learn from you about Improv, your ability to advance students’ learning through states of play and it’s that idea of moving faster than the inner critic. You would push me to places through play and experimentation that afterward, I realize how was I not more afraid to do that? I’ve never done a scene in front of an audience. I’ve never played a character like that. Yet Zoe has this masterful skill of creating psychological safety with play to allow people to grow and develop without having time to stop and say, “How do I – am I doing a good job? Do I look good? Did I do it well? Did I do it right?” And so, that’s something I’ve always really appreciated about. I think really that’s another, you’re welcome, that’s another principle of being an unscripted leader is really recognizing the importance of creating psychological safety for a group or an organization. That’s probably the biggest area of opportunity for any team.
Zoe: Absolutely. So, maybe you might be familiar with that Google study on team dynamics. Psychological safety is the number one characteristic of a high-performance team. And how do you get psychological safety? Play is one way. Have people play together because it levels the playing field and it doesn’t matter whether you’re the manager or, I mean, we worked with entire departments at a medical center where everybody comes in, be it the receptionist, the MA, the doctor, the chief, get them playing together and laughing together and it just really breaks the ice. All that tension that we have when we’re working together when challenges come up, play, it just like strikes right through that.
Betsy: Now, you have to say play, there’s another ingredient or two that we include in that that is really critical that if people simply go play then they play how they did in the playground and it might include poking fun at each other or teasing each other which does not establish psychological safety. It’s critical that when someone gets out of their comfort zone then we celebrate that person, that we give them a round of applause, that we pat them on the back and say, “Hey, we need to go out there and play.”
Zoe: Right. Improv is all about I got your back. Because you’re going out on stage with your partner as your lifeline. That’s all you have is your partner. You don’t have anything else. You don’t have a script. And think about it, the spotlight is on you. There are 200 people in the audience. They’ve all paid money to see something incredible happen. And you got to deliver. You can’t hide. You can’t run away. You’re on stage and it’s up to you. And guess who you have? Your teammate. And so, that’s why make your teammate the hero is so important. Everything that your partner gives you is a gift on the stage. Honor that gift and I would dare say think about that in life that everything that your partner just did is a gift in some way.
Jon: That’s awesome. I’m just reflecting, enjoying hearing both of your perspectives on play. When I was younger, and by the way, a shout out one of our viewers who I know both of you know, one of your LEAF certification classmates, Mike McCarthy. He just wrote, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” That’s coming from Mike who’s quite a master at play. Hi, Mike. I think a lot about the idea of play for me has a very personal meaning because I was that kid when I was in school, when I was younger who I always had this inner voice that wanted to play just a little bit more. And I didn’t always know how to channel that, and so I ended up also becoming that kid that got into a lot of trouble. And I’ll just blame myself for that. What’s been really interesting is when I look at my professional career, play has remained an important part of everything that I do, and I’ve gotten a lot of comfort when my own research because my job just like you, we’re all interested in what allows a group of people to be at their best. And in my research, I’ll give you two or three examples. One is the living company or the guys who are an executive for Royal Dutch Shell for many years, they commissioned an internal study within this huge international 100-plus-year-old company where they went out and they studied companies that have been in existence for 30, 40, 50, even 100 or 200 years. And one of the things that they talk about and it’s like a very serious book and they talk about how we have to reconnect to this desire to play. And then I think about Gary Hamel who talks about the future of management and we have to in our organizations find a way for people to reconnect to their deepest human self which we do that through play.
And then recently, somebody introduced me to, because I was trying to connect the dots between Eastern and Western philosophy. And this idea of mindfulness like this is this new thing to us. It’s been around for like 10,000 years in the other half of the world. And when you look at indigenous cultures, native tribes and how they learned thousands of years ago right there, school was this invisible school called nature. It was recently introduced to a great teacher who reconnects people to what indigenous tribes learned with nature and one of the predominant ways that native tribes learn was by playing, by embodying different animals. And I go home, today’s Halloween, and what are my kids having fun doing? Putting on costumes. And having kids who want to wear costumes all the time has reminded me how valuable it is to play because that part of us it’s like an unlocking mechanism. So, I’m just a huge fan and I love hearing what you’re talking about. It makes me feel better about all that trouble I got into thinking, “It wasn’t me, it was them.” So, thank you for that. Thank you for that.
Jon: Hey, if somebody is listening to this right now and they’re curious, how do I bring more play into my life as soon as I’m done listening? What thoughts might you have on that? Because you professionally orchestrate play in large groups of people but if someone goes to work with a small team or they’re driving home to see their family right now, what’s the thought on how do they bring that into the next moment when they’re done listening to us?
Betsy: Great question.
Betsy: Well, you can text ImprovHQ so the word ImprovHQ to the number 44222 and we’ll email you exercises that you can do with your family and friends. It will be three emails over the next week.
Zoe: Right, and with your team, if you’re part of an organization.
Betsy: So, there are exercises. The emails will include videos and also PDFs that you can use that are exercises. Yet I think that the first step is having an attitude of playfulness because when you have a mindset of being playful that is so great to be playful then you discover games all the time. You discover something to play with all the time. And Zoe and I discover things all the time that we create a game or create something that’s fun.
Zoe: I would dare say give yourself an unstructured game. This is a challenge for the audience. So, at some point, this month and I know we’re all busy. I know I’m included in that. Give yourself a day where you don’t have a plan and you just follow your inspiration and see where that takes you that day.
Betsy: Yeah. I have another idea which is you know those board games that you have up on that bookshelf that you never pulled out off the shelf? Pull them out now. Play with a game. [inaudible – 29:40]. I mean, think about the games you really loved when you were kids. I mean, we love playing capture the flag, we loved playing, there are some games in Michigan that not everyone plays. So, if I say the name, it won’t make sense. Yeah. Board games. I love playing Scrabble. I love playing Cranium. Pictionary.
Zoe: Or just something fun. You know what, have a spontaneous dance party.
Betsy: Have a spontaneous dance party. There’s a way about playing that playing is right, playing is okay. Playing is good. I love that you mentioned Halloween because something that we might see as scary, on Halloween we make it fun. We just choose to make it playful. We just say, “Oh, that.” Otherwise, it would be scary.
Zoe: I would say if you’re on a road trip with your family, you could even play a word at a time so you tell a story a word at a time. So, once…
Zoe: A squirrel
Zoe: Sunset together
Jon: That’s awesome. That’s awesome.
Zoe: Just to see where the story goes, see where it emerges. Have fun with your kids doing this. Have fun with your teams. We’ve actually done this type of exercise to help teams find their values to help find their mission statement. So, doing that kind of work doesn’t have to be serious and boring. If you actually tap into parts of yourself that are, well, people have said to us, “Gosh, I haven’t felt that part of myself since I was a kid. I haven’t tapped into that creativity for so long or haven’t laughed in a year.” A gentleman came up to us working with attorneys and said, “You know what, that’s the first time I’ve laughed in a year.” Or someone came up to us and said, “That’s the first time my team hugged me.”
Betsy: One client said, “That’s the hardest I’ve laughed since I’ve worked here,” and she worked there for 17 years. Other people came up to us and said, “I’ve never seen her laugh like that.” So, notice when you play this game, notice if you have kind of a thought or a desire coming up that, “Ooh, I want this to be good,” or,” Oh, I have something different what’s going to happen to the story.” “No, no, no, I don’t want to give acorns to the squirrel. I want to do some other thing.” Notice that fear and that desire to control and just say hello to it and you don’t need to be funny. It doesn’t have to be clever, it’s not going to be interesting. If you do a bunch of these stories, they’re not all going to be good. Yet, we want to celebrate the participation.
Zoe: Right. And also seeing those mistakes as opportunities because resilient response is one of our main principles. It’s the foundation of all improvisation. Dare to be boring. Dare to fail. Dare to tell that story that isn’t great. Guess what? It’s disposable. We can just go woohoo. Let it go and begin again. So, as you’re creating, for example, your mission statement or exploring your value, just know, it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. You can continue to iterate. We work here in Silicon Valley, right, fail fast, iterate, iterate, iterate. Just keep trying things. You have to take the first step. Dare to take the first step. So many times, we know what our passions are and what we’re inspired to do and yet we’re not willing to take that first step. We got to start somewhere.
Jon: One other thing is that, one of my favorite teachers in a business school at Case, he taught us design thinking. One of the things that he had us do is we are about to go into this project and it’s like you could just feel the tension of everybody getting all of their insecurities coming to the surface about okay, we’re going to create something now. People have this human apprehension to creativity at times especially when there’s a lot on the line. And I’ll never forget what this instructor has us do. Before we broke into teams, he said, “First, we just want you to flex your design muscles.” He said, “Everybody, take any piece of paper sitting in front of you and you have 30 seconds to design anything at all with that piece of paper. Go.” And so all of a sudden, some people are crumpling it into a ball. Some people make airplanes. And then he said, “Okay. Now watch this. I want you to get in groups of three and in groups of three you have another 30 seconds to combine your three pieces of paper and see who can turn it into the tallest freestanding tower of paper.” And in like two minutes he got everybody to connect to exactly what you’re talking about which is realizing that when we create our future, it’s really more about just like you said, failing fast, stepping into the unknown and he made the point. He said, “If I gave you five more tries,” he goes, “By the fifth try, you would create something amazing with this piece of paper and you’d laugh all the way there.” And it was the perfect setup.
And it actually reminds me of an exercise I learned from the two of you where you teach people about the difference between the words but and the word and. You talk about just the difference between that word and there’s an exercise I saw you do at Best Year Ever Blueprint. I don’t think I’ve ever told you this story of how I went and used it but now I’m going to tell you. So, there’s an exercise where you have people pair up with a partner and they make up a story and I’ll never forget the first time I saw you do this. The topic of the story you had them made up was, “Remember our trip to Mexico.” And they were only allowed to “Yes, and…” each other. So, they make up this elaborate story about whatever happened in Mexico. I don’t know why it is. Is it Mexico? But for some reason that just leads to people coming up with these crazy elaborate. It’s like a two-minute exercise where they make up a story. Well, I have since used that where I have teams and this can be very serious technical operational teams that never do this kind of stuff where I have them play that game for one minute and then they go have a dialogue around their future where they’re creating the story of their future. And what’s crazy is I used to just have people move right into creating their future, but I’ve now found if they play a little game like that to remind themselves that this is all just a game, it’s all worth laughing at. It’s all play and there is no perfect way to do it. It makes a huge difference. So, I want to thank you for allowing me to steal that from you and use it freely so thank you for that.
Zoe: Absolutely. So, yeah, we would recommend to all of our clients and to all of you listeners out there, when you’re brainstorming together because we do that all the time at work, see if you can “Yes, and…” and put all of the crazy ideas on the board and you might discover something that you didn’t know existed and you can actually set a timer to do this. So, delay the editor. Somebody of us start with what’s not working or we put an idea up on the board and then we say, “Well, we don’t have the budget for that.” Instead of going there right away, dare to “Yes, and…” for seven minutes, 10 minutes. When we do this at the Global Forum for business, we work with the United Nations and they wanted 20 minutes of “Yes, and…”. The creative ideas out there and allow all of the voices to be heard.
Betsy: And what you said, Jon, about doing an exercise beforehand to prime our brains is so critical. When we do this part of our session, we’ve already done maybe seven or eight different exercises to help people break out of their analyzer, their prefrontal cortex and we spent so much time in our world in 2017 in our analyzer analyzing things and also looking for what’s wrong, looking for problems. And so, we need exercises like Remember Mexico or other exercises that we do to prime the brain to open up, the creative parts of our brain, to then be able to come up with ideas. So, you’re absolutely right. Sometimes when people try to do something creative, when people say, “I’m not creative,” it always breaks our hearts because if you’re a human being, you are creative. You create all the time. What’s happening is at these neuropathways are getting in the way of that energy flowing through and there’s a criticism that’s happening that’s holding that out.
Zoe: Right. I would say Improv is also training to imagine. And so anytime our amygdala is taking over, we want to survive, we want to get it right and so Improv what it does is it mimics that state of where we’re under pressure in a playful way. We’re duplicating those moments so that we don’t get that amygdala hijack anymore and we learn how to breathe and relax and listen. I would say next time you’re feeling nervous, let’s say there’s a meeting and you’re about to speak next. We hear that a lot from people that it’s going around the circle and you start to get nervous, it’s almost your turn and you wanted to be perfect and then suddenly you didn’t hear what the person before you said. And then maybe you accidentally repeat what they just said because you weren’t listening because you weren’t in the moment. I would say in those moment…
Jon: I’ve done that at least once on this podcast. I know that because my team handed me a note to tell me that I did that.
Zoe: Woohoo. So, I would say in this moment, see if you can breathe, relax and listen and notice what your partner is saying and consider that a gift and see if you can tie your idea into what they just said so that’s the “Yes, and…” piece.
Betsy: So, another principle of the unscripted leader which is in those moments when you feel nervous, often we’re thinking about ourselves, how do I look, how am I doing, I want to do a good job and one of Zoe’s theater professors always use this phrase.
Zoe: It’s Mr. Haiver. You should send your arrows out. Send your arrows out. Not in. Send it out.
Jon: If you’re not watching this on the live stream you need to go find the link and you need to go to minute whatever this is and watch and let…
Zoe: It’s true.
Betsy: I love that concept because and so when I was a kid and I was nervous going into a new situation, my dad would say, “See, if you can help the other kids have fun. See if you can find someone who’s having more of a hard time than you are and include them.” And so, having that opportunity to practice putting our arrows out, when we focus on listening for what the person next to us is saying, then it actually helps as it break into other parts of our brain, it is creative. Because you have wisdom inside of you. We just want to help support you with connecting that wisdom with your community, connecting that wisdom in your relationships and connecting it to your work.
Jon: I love that. I really love that. You know, I’d love to know if – you mentioned earlier your book coming out, The Unscripted Leader. When does that come out?
Zoe: To be determined.
Betsy: To be determined.
Betsy: The light just went out.
Jon: I don’t really care if your book ever comes out.
Betsy: We’ll keep you posted.
Zoe: So, the reason it hasn’t come out yet is because we’re still gathering stories from leaders and they’re really beautiful stories. And so, we keep running into new stories and so we’re in the editing process right now.
Betsy: And if you text us or you go to our website and click on free training and sign up for our free training, we’ll keep you posted about announcements about when the book is coming out.
Jon: That’s perfect. Hey, look. Laura, that title, Unscripted Leader, can we make sure that our book has the same title because I really like that title. And I feel like if we just get it out then – no.
Zoe: I just want to mention to you, Jon, that we’re so excited because next week we’re also launching our Diversity and Inclusion Program using improvisation to help people connect with their community at work. So, we’re very excited.
Betsy: Yes, because it’s that idea that what we can create together is better than what anyone of us can create individually. And going back to your reference of nature, Jon, is that the biodiversity is what makes an environment rich. Having diversity is what makes an environment healthy. So, that if we’re all trying to be like one specific leader, we are failing. We’re really failing each other and failing ourselves to celebrate ourselves as individuals and to allow our voices to be heard and to share our unique contribution. And so, we have many exercises that help us to open up to each other’s ideas, to get into patterns of curiosity, positivity, and direction instead of judgment and blame and noticing our desire to do that. So, yes, we’re very excited for this Diversity and Inclusion Program.
Zoe: Yes. Improv really is about suspending judgment and looking at the unconscious bias that we have through playful exercises. So, we can stop and say, “What’s my pattern here? Am I going into judgment of self? Am I going into judgment of other? Why is that? What’s going on here?” So, we’re able to examine that internal world and not just talk about it theoretically but actually embody it.
Betsy: And it’s that transition from a competitive mindset to a collaborative mindset. So, when we think about the physicians that we work with in medical school, often it’s a competitive environment whether there’s one number one, one person who got the best score and in medicine and especially now in 2017 and at Kaiser Permanente, they practice team-based medicine. It’s a collaboration. And so, we get to practice creating a mindset where it’s not a zero-sum game. So, we can win and I can win. How do we create a win-win for everyone? And that’s another thing we love about appreciative inquiry is looking for the wins for everyone who’s included that making – we don’t want to make a choice that’s going to say yes to one person and no to everybody else.
Zoe: Yeah. And I would say as you’re interacting with others this week, start noticing those moments where you’re like, “Hmm, where is that judgment coming from? Isn’t that interesting?” Rather than say, “Isn’t that terrible?” Isn’t that interesting? And being curious about it. And even being curious about the other person. We just took an Uber ride.
Betsy: Oh, I was just thinking of that.
Zoe: All the way home…
Betsy: Cristina from Cleveland. She’s awesome.
Zoe: And we’re asking her, “What’s it like driving?” and I said, “Isn’t every like ride an improv scene?” So, you don’t know the passenger who gets in and she goes, “Oh yes, it’s always improv,” and she said, “I’m really open.”
Betsy: Well, we were saying, “You seemed so open,” because she seemed so positive and open so we’re saying to her, “Wow. You seem so open.”
Zoe: Yeah. And so, she said, “Yeah. I’m really open until somebody says something that I don’t agree with.” And then she said, “And in that moment, what I do is I get curious and I ask a lot of questions. And this is us being, “Isn’t that awesome?”
Betsy: Yeah. She was dropping some major wisdom. She said, “When I hear something I don’t like, my mind closes and then I know I need to start asking questions.” And we were like, “Whoa, stop the car. We got to write it down.”
Zoe: Again, that Uber ride right there was an opportunity…
Betsy: I think it was a Lyft ride.
Zoe: Or Lyft. Oh yeah. You’re right. It was Lyft. So, that moment of having that interaction is an opportunity to learn something. You can learn something from anyone that you interact with as long as your heart is open, your mind is open and you’re curious and you ask questions.” I would say get curious, not furious.
Zoe: Mic fell down.
Jon: I love that. Ladies, maybe one or two more questions from me here and then if there’s anything else you’d like to share, please. I’ve had the privileged seat of being able to benefit from your work from the moment the two of you partnered together however many years ago that was and I’ve really enjoyed watching your skills elevate and evolve and every single time you come to a group, I noticed this is never the same Betsy and Zoe. And so, I just want to commend you because the two of you are constantly elevating your ability to work with a group and that’s really admirable. I want to know when the two of you reflect on your future, the future of ImprovHQ and the impact you want to see your work have in the world as entrepreneurs, as your own business leaders, and as a team. What gets you excited? Where do you want to go with all this? What do you see in the future that gets you most pumped up?
Zoe: Well, I think that if everyone took an Improv class of some kind, the world would be a better place. That’s one thing. Yeah, how do we reach everyone? Well, that’s why we’re writing the book because we think that people can apply this in their workplace through the exercises. What is our text to be? 44 what is it?
Betsy: You can text the word ImprovHQ so right here, ImprovHQ to the number 44222 and then it will ask for your email address and then you put in.
Zoe: So, you can apply things right away. I just think that, again, the world would just be a better place if we all made each other the hero if we were able to listen to one another deeply if we were present with another, if we were open to possibility and open to yes and if we were willing to share our ideas and also create space for other people to share their ideas. So, if you’re a person that’s always chiming in, maybe it’s time to take a step back and allow others’ voices to be heard.
Betsy: What excites us about the future is reaching a larger and larger audience. So, that’s part of the reason why we’re writing the Unscripted Leader because we currently work in Silicon Valley. We work in many places in the world yet we’re writing a book to reach a wider audience. We’re actually partnering and recruiting world-class facilitators who know Improv and understand business and we’ve been sending other facilitators besides Zoe and I to host sessions in different companies. And we know that even – so we love Gary Hamel and the Future of Management.
Zoe: What’s that quote?
Betsy: Well, there are many quotes that I like. The command-and-control approach to management is no longer working. Even the world’s most admired companies are as adaptable as they need to be and innovative as they could be or as much fun to work in as they should be. And the challenges that we’re experiencing today, and Gary Hamel talks about this in his book, the challenges that we’re facing requires us to change the way that we communicate and to change the way that we interact. And so, I’d say the third piece as I mentioned several pieces that we’re excited about is using appreciative inquiry as a philosophy and process to bring out the best of individuals, teams, and organizations and we use our principles and exercises to in a way supercharge many of the parts of an appreciative inquiry summit to improve collaboration, improve communication so that we’re having conversations worth having. Speaking of conversations worth having. Jackie Stavros has a book coming out which has a – it’s very accessible. It’s amazing. We’ve read it. We recommend it. So, it’s about a single conversation. It says, “Individual interactions that conversations that can change our world.” You don’t have to be the CEO of a company. You don’t have to be a world leader. What you need to do is take responsibility for how you are in the world and take responsibility for how you say yes to others, how you bring out the best in others, how you encourage others around you to take risks.
Zoe: Or to say how you show up in the world. You have a choice every single day about how you show up. And even though you might not be on stage, your stage could be your family. Your stage could be your marriage. Your stage could be a book that you’re writing, your stage could be the team that you’re working with or your stage could be an entire organization. So, how do you want to show up on your stage?
Jon: Ladies, I love it. I’m committed, and I know Hal is committed and I’m imagining that many folks in this community are going to be committed to helping you to spread your work. So, today hopefully is one small pebble that will create a lot of ripples and we cannot wait to continue on this journey with you which continues in less than three weeks at our Best Year Ever Blueprint.
Zoe: Speaking of which, Hal is an unscripted leader.
Betsy: An unscripted leader. Yes, he’s a beautiful example of establishing psychological safety. Obviously becoming a positive and creative mindset, someone who…
Jon: You’re totally right.
Betsy: …throws out instead of his arrows in. He prepares and then the moment he’s able to be flexible and adaptable.
Zoe: And he finds the opportunity in adversity.
Jon: Got it.
Betsy: We love the Miracle Morning Community. We love you, Jon. We love Hal and everyone and if there’s any ever a way that we can support and encourage any of you watching, listening, we would love…
Zoe: Please let us know.
Betsy: Please talk to us.
Zoe: We’re ImprovHQ.com.
Jon: That’s awesome.
Zoe: Oh yeah. We’re @improv on Twitter.
Zoe: Yeah. So, we work there.
Jon: Well, 400 of us will be with you in less than three weeks and for everybody else, share this episode with those who you love and care about. Betsy, Zoe, this was awesome. Thank you.
Zoe: Thank you, Jon.
Betsy: Thank you.
"What we are capable of creating together is better than what any one of us can create individually.”
Want to develop a playful mindset with your team/family/friends? Text “improvhq” to 44222 and Zoe and Betsy will send you their training exercises!
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