Forgetting to ‘be average’


July 13th, 2009

So I’m stuck. Not sure what to write, questioning if anyone’s interested, cares or even wants to hear what I have to say. Stuck in an endless feedback loop with myself: one part of me saying “I’m going to finally write that book”. The other side saying “Whatever you write has already been written – you’re not clever enough or witty enough or even original enough!”

No wonder I’m stuck!

So I’m grateful today to an email from a colleague asking me to explain the improv principle of BE AVERAGE.

Here’s some of what I wrote in response:

Keith Johnstone writes about improvisers trying to be too clever. It’s easy to see in an improv performance because they are searching their brain for a witty or clever line. Essentially they are blocking themselves by thinking, even unconsciously, that whatever idea has come into their mind, it’s “not [insert any adjective] enough” eg not clever enough, not witty enough, not original enough. So Keith trains improvisers to be obvious, and to be average. The first step in acknowledging and accepting the offers of others is to accept your own offers – no matter what you think of them. This gives you an opportunity to ‘do something’ by ‘starting anywhere’ and building on subsequent offers.

Giving yourself permission to ‘be average’, gives you space to explore what might potentially emerge, to see the possibilities rather than reject ideas because they aren’t ‘good’ enough.

Patricia Ryan Madson also writes specifically about ‘being average’. Here’s what she writes (pp 60 & 61 of Improv Wisdom)

“Giving it all you’ve got commonly backfires. There is a paradox that when we are trying hard the result is often disappointing. A healthier climate is one in which we tell ourselves to just be average. Take the pressure off. Avoid the mindset that says “This one better be good!” or “Be original.” When you try to do your best the effect on your performance is often to jinx it. In all cases there is something to lose. This can provoke tension and easily lead to anxiety.”

This principle often tricks me – I find myself NOT doing something because I want to do it SO WELL, that I do nothing at all, for fear of failure. I know when I’m not being average because I’m not being anything – I block myself. It’s only when I give myself permission to be average that I can do what I need to do and maybe even surprise myself, and others, by exceeding expectations.

I really should take my own advice more often! Hope you enjoyed this average post.

5 Comments so far

  1. Lynn Walsh on July 13, 2009 2:34 pm

    Write that book. Start anywhere. Your being average has given me the courage to be average too. On the weekend I was asked to deliver content on teamwork. As part of this, I decided to take your average lead and so created a slide set (first time I’ve used slides in facilitating) based on Patricia Ryan Madson’s 13 maxims of improv. One word, one pic – no huge preparation involved (except for the fun of selecting the pics), no content research (other than what I learned from you in Geelong in Nov 06 and others via their writing since), a game with few rules and a trust the group approach. Yes, I worried about it not being ‘original’ / all my own work. Instead, I went for it. I acknowledged all my sources of inspiration. On one level it feels like all I did was show up – and be average. And yet, going with my gut and pushing the inner critic out of the way worked well for the group I was serving and for me!
    Thanks for being average Viv.

  2. Michael Sampson on July 13, 2009 2:55 pm

    Viv, you need to read “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamont. Highly recommended … M.

  3. Viv McWaters on July 13, 2009 2:59 pm

    @Lynn – Thanks – seems we all have inner critics to tame.

    @Michael – Yes you’re right. I have read it, so definitely need to re-read it!

  4. Geoff Brown on July 13, 2009 7:57 pm

    At Karate tonight my Shihan said the same thing to me … “Geoff! Don’t try so hard … just let it go and you’ll be faster and punch with more force”. All wrapped in in that desire to do things better than the average guy!

  5. Facilitation - Evaluation - Beyond the Edge - Viv McWaters on July 31, 2009 10:27 am

    […] I thought I might do a little experiment of my own here, after all it’s my blog and I can what I want! I’m going to publish something here every day during August. I can’t wait. I’m starting now. At least it’ll be interesting to see what emerges. And it will allow me be more average. […]

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