As “a modern productive worker is someone who does a great job in figuring out what to do next” I am reminded by my friend that there are times when you must be okay with not having a definition for what happens next. You may not have a form…a shape…an idea…a clue…nothing. And still you must be okay with that.
It is through Seth Godin’s attempt to redefine productivity that the On Being interview with Krista Tippett and Bobby McFerrin was brought to my attention. One of the first things that got the wheels of my mind turning was the importance of improvisation in learning music because of how it could be applied as a metaphor to our lives.
Lessons of Improvisation
McFerrin describes improvisation as “motion…[that] precedes…knowledge…or basic understanding about anything.” To engage in improvisation you must courageously act or open your mouth and follow where that leads…
The Ten Minute Exercise
To demonstrate how difficult improvisation is, McFerrin gives his students the assignment of singing for ten minutes. What is interesting about this exercise, McFerrin notes, is that within two minutes our minds tend to start talking to us about how stupid this is, how crazy it looks, and the mechanics of what we’re doing! Is this anything like the self-talk you experience when you try something new?
I found that just hearing what the experience was like brought the definition of improvisation to life: the courage to keep moving…to keep going. The only thing that seems to get in our way is wondering if we’re qualified enough. This is an excuse, according to McFerrin. I can’t help but wonder how key it is to realize that the only thing getting in our way is ourselves…our doubts…our performance…
Learning Something New
If McFerrin’s teaching you something for the first time he’ll start you off with improvisation. After two weeks he’ll introduce your first musical note but “it all goes back to improvisation.”
In what ways do you improvise in your life now? In what ways would you benefit from more improvisation?